As the pandemic has thrust into sharp relief, families across America rely on child care to meet the demands of both the workplace and the home front. A single mom trying to make rent; newly-married young professionals just starting a family; two working-class parents needing to cover a couple extra hours while dealing with unpredictable scheduling — all at some point depend on a child care arrangement of some kind. Expanding the array of options available to American families, whether it be care by a relative or parent, or a daycare or child care center, should be a prime focus of public policy.

This report outlines options for improving child care availability and affordability in light of the immense pluralism of American family life. At a high-level, a commitment to “child care pluralism” means policymakers should seek to:

  • Dedicate funding to non-profit child care providers through grants, loans, and technical assistance, prioritizing care options embedded in a community context and meeting parents’ stated desires;
  • Resist the temptation to pile quality-improvement mandates that bear an ambiguous relationship to long-term outcomes onto federal grants, and;
  • Improve the functioning of the market for child care by creating incentives to increase supply, develop innovative funding models, and make careers in the sector more appealing.

Policymakers who recognize the importance of intermediary institutions should seek to empower those organizations to be necessary and vital sources of caregiving at the community level. Reforming our child care infrastructure to make a plurality of care options more available and affordable is the most compelling path forward.

Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where his work focuses on developing a robust pro-family economic agenda. Prior to joining EPPC, Brown served as a Senior Policy Advisor to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee (JEC).