New report illustrates challenges for Kentucky children and child care

father and little daughter go to school or daycare, education

A new report highlights major challenges for children, families, and the child care sector in Kentucky. The 2023 Kids Count Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Kentucky as 40th in the nation when it comes to “overall child well-being,” a metric that looks at factors related to the economy, education, health, and families and communities. 

The report notes that child care challenges are a major contributing factor to a state like Kentucky’s low ranking for overall child well-being. “When families have accessible, affordable, quality child care, kids and parents benefit,” the report states. “Young children can find nurturing support and begin early learning, while their parents and caregivers are able to earn money for food, housing, and other essentials. A functional child care system that meets the needs of families would ensure parents have care when and where they need it — at a reasonable cost and with family-supporting pay for child care professionals.”

53 percent of working-age adults are parents, and 37 percent of those parents had young children, according to the report. Applying these percentages to Kentucky’s workforce, this equates to roughly 250,000 working-age adults with young children as of 2021, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data

Surveys of working parents with young children illustrate the impact of child care challenges on their ability to participate in the workforce. A national survey of working parents and employers by the Bipartisan Policy Center in December 2022 found that almost four in ten working parents with young children have quit a job due to child care responsibilities. One in three reports leaving the workforce altogether at some point because of child care. Fifty-six percent say child care has factored into a decision on whether to accept a job. 

“Kentucky’s business community has long understood how child care challenges contribute to the state’s low rates of workforce participation,” said Dr. Charles Aull, Executive Director of the Kentucky Chamber Center for Policy and Research. “This new report shows how these challenges not only affect adult participation in the labor market but also translate into negative outcomes for children. This is an issue that certainly merits attention from policymakers.”

Other statistics from the report relevant to Kentucky include:

  • 60 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Kentucky were not enrolled in formal early learning programs— six percentage points higher than the national average. 
  • 22 percent of Kentucky children live in poverty, and 33 percent have parents without secure employment. Both of these are higher than national averages. 
  • Every one of Kentucky’s neighboring states except West Virginia ranked higher than the Commonwealth for overall child well-being.  

To help address some of the child care challenges faced by working families in Kentucky and to encourage more early childhood learning opportunities, the state recently launched the new Employee Child Care Assistance Partnership (ECCAP). A program unique to Kentucky, ECCAP will match contributions made by employers to assist working parents and guardians with the cost of child care. As noted in the Kids Count Data Book, average annual child care costs in Kentucky range from $6,300 to $7,100 per year for young children. In many Kentucky counties, this surpasses average housing costs. ECCAP provides an opportunity for employers to assist working parents with their child care challenges through an impactful partnership with the state. To learn more, click here. ECCAP was the result of House Bill 499, passed in the 2022 legislative session. Strongly supported by the business community, it is one of many innovative policy ideas that Kentucky will need to support its child care ecosystem. 

The Kids Count Data Book also discusses challenges within the child care sector, including thorough explanations of the child care business model and workforce shortages in this sector. In addition, the report includes rankings on different child well-being metrics in all 50 states. Click here to read the full report.  

About the Author

Charles Aull
Senior Policy Analyst at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

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