Time for Child Care: The Need to Improve Access to Quality Care is Long Overdue

Published March 12, 2015 – by Joan Lombardi

Twenty years ago the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 brought together delegates from 189 nations around a platform of action that called for “the full and equal participation of women in political, economic, social and cultural life”. As the international community celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, commemorating achievements of women and girls throughout the world, how close are we to achieving that goal?

According to a report released this week by The Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, No Ceilings: The Full Participation Report, while progress has been made in areas of health, education and legal rights; in areas of security, economic opportunity, and leadership, “the pace of change has been far too slow… and even when there has been progress, the gains are not shared by all”.

In particular, the report noted that “access to child care and elder care are important to the economic participation of parents, particularly women…(yet) finding affordable quality care that meets the needs of working families is difficult.”

The report highlights some of the child care issues:

  • Large gaps in access to care remain, particularly in low-income countries
  • Quality of care is strained
  • Services for children under three are often not available
  • Access to full day services that address the needs of working families remain limited
  • Data on access and quality of care is often not available

Other reports confirm these findings. UNICEF data indicates that around the world, the poorest children are at greatest risk of being left alone or with inadequate care. The lack of child care not only affects young children but may also be a barrier to the ability of older children to attend school, particularly girls, as they have to assume caregiving responsibilities for the family.

Quality affordable child care can help address three critical issues faced by countries around the world: supporting working families, providing enriched environments for children, and developing new employment opportunities for teachers and other caregivers. It is time for national action plans that address these three critical issues. Planning could bring together education, health and social protection ministries to assess child care needs, to provide financing to support quality services and professional development and to create comprehensive data systems.

The time to focus on child care is long overdue. We need to continue to document the impact that quality care can have on children and on the ability of women to participate in the labour force. Let’s not wait another 20 years to bring attention and new resources to an issue that is so central to the daily lives of families around the world.

Author: Joan Lombardi, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Bernard van Leer Foundation