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Study: Federal Subsidies Don't Guarantee Quality Child Care

The federal government spends billions annually on subsidies for child care, but a new study shows that doesn't necessarily translate into children receiving the highest quality of care.

The study, which recently appeared in the journal Child Development, found that kids whose families received federal subsidies were less likely to receive high-quality care than those whose families didn't and enrolled their kids in Head Start or public preschool programs.

That's because "Head Start and public prekindergarten programs were designed specifically to boost children's development by providing higher-quality care. Their quality is, on average, higher than that of the community-based centers and home-based care that are used by subsidy recipients," says Anna D. Johnson, a postdoctoral research fellow at Georgetown University who led the study, in a press release.

Those who got subsidies did, however, sign up up for higher-quality care when compared with families who didn't get money and also didn't access other publicly funded care, according to the study.

Researchers studied 750 4-year-olds who were part of the national Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort and whose parents were eligible for the child-care subsidies. They compared the quality of the child care chosen by families who received the subsidies to that chosen by families who were eligible for the funds, but didn't receive them.

The study also found that families who received subsidies were more likely to use center-based child care than home-based care, and that child care was usually higher in quality than home-based care. In addition, those families who got subsidies and did choose home-based child care received better care, probably because the funds allowed them to choose licensed settings.

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