- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003


More preschoolers are being cared for by Grandma or Grandpa while Mom works, Census Bureau figures show.

More working parents dropped off the children at day care centers between 1997 and 1999, but mothers were less likely to leave their children in the home of an unrelated person, like a neighbor.

The Census Bureau data, the latest available, offer a jumbled picture of child care trends at the end of the last decade as parents weighed costs versus convenience, said Jerlean Daniel, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Economic factors have a lot to do with it, but in those places where Grandma is available, a mother may see that as a more quality choice," Miss Daniel said yesterday. "They have far less concerns with trusting them than putting the child in a day care center with strangers."

The proportion of children under 5 regularly cared for by a grandparent while the mother worked rose from 18 percent in 1997 to nearly 21 percent in 1999. The rates have fluctuated since 1985, the first year data were collected, but have been on the rise since the mid-1990s.

Day care centers watched 18 percent of preschoolers in 1999, up slightly from 17 percent in 1997 after having decreased the previous four years.

And 17 percent of children spent their time away from Mom at a non-relative's home in 1999, down from 18 percent two years earlier and 24 percent in 1995.

The fluctuating statistics and changing work options make it difficult to analyze child care trends, said Census Bureau analyst Kristin Smith.

For instance, the availability of the Internet has allowed more mothers to work part- or full-time from home than in the 1980s, helping to ease child care costs.

Fathers are pitching in, too: Nearly 19 percent of children in 1999 were watched primarily by Dad while Mom worked, about the same as in 1997. About 8 percent of children were cared for by a sibling or other relative.

Meanwhile, parents who were more well-off financially in 1999 may have had more money available to pay day care costs. On average, a working mother of a preschooler paid $94 a week for child care, or nearly one 10th of her monthly income.

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