So far, we’ve written several blogs about how characteristics of children’s parents can influence food security. As the authors of our Fall 2014 research report remind us, however, three-quarters of children spend some portion of their preschool years in the care of people other than their parents, so we need to look at how child-care arrangements may also influence food insecurity among children. This is especially important given that children in center-based care may receive a majority of their nutritional needs at their center rather than in the home.
The research report highlights a study by Heflin, Arteaga, and Gable that compared child care by parents to child care by someone else, among low-income families. Specifically, they examined five types of child-care arrangements: child-care by parents, by a relative, by someone unrelated to the child in a home care setting, in a child-care center, and in Head Start. They found that compared with children cared for exclusively by their parents, low-income preschoolers attending a child-care center had lower levels of both food insecurity in general and of very low food security. Children cared for by a relative were less likely to experience food insecurity in general but equally likely to experience very low food security and children cared for by an unrelated adult were more likely to experience very low food security.
The finding that low-income preschoolers attending child-care centers had lower levels of food insecurity and very low food security compared to those cared for by their parents has several theoretical explanations. First, parents of these children may be better able to work while their children attend the center, which increases household income. Second, these children may receive some of their nutritional needs directly through the child-care center.
While school-based nutrition programs have proven to help alleviate food insecurity for some children, this research reminds us that preschool children must also be considered in policy discussions. Improving access to child-care services for low-income parents of preschool children may improve food security within this age group.