Policy Clearinghouse

Child Care Ratios

Child care ratios are theoretically aligned with these policy goals:


Child care ratios are theoretically aligned with these policy goals:

More rigorous research is needed to build the evidence base on the impact that lower child-to-caregiver ratios have on children’s development, health, and safety in early care and education settings, particularly in the infant and toddler years. The few causal studies identified for this review suggest mixed impacts, but the observational research conducted up to this point is promising, and it suggests that lower ratios and smaller group sizes may lead to more positive caregiving, better cognitive outcomes, and fewer illnesses among children. 

In early care and education settings, a child care ratio refers to the number of children in a room per caregiver. The ratios considered best for child care quality and safety vary depending on children’s ages and the type of child care setting (e.g., center- or home-based care). States include ratio requirements, typically with caps on the number of children allowed per classroom or home, in their licensing regulations for child care providers. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association also provide recommended guidelines for ratios. Policies that encourage lower child-to-caregiver ratios and smaller group sizes may improve child supervision and facilitate better relationships between infants and toddlers and their caregivers, thereby improving classroom safety and quality. Higher-quality classrooms, in turn, may improve short- and long-term cognitive and social-emotional outcomes for young children by promoting healthy brain development. Ratio requirements and maximum group sizes for licensed child care centers and homes vary across the states based on the ages of the children served.

Download the Complete Evidence Review

Child Care Ratios Evidence Review (PDF)

Recommended Citation:
Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center. (2020). Prenatal-to-3 policy clearinghouse evidence review: Child care ratios (ER 0920.012A). Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University.

Updated September 2020

Related Resources

State Earned Income Tax Credit positively impacts these policy goals: Healthy and Equitable Births Parents Ability to Work Sufficient Household Resources SUMMARY   A refundable state EITC of at least 10% of the federal EITC
Community-Based Doulas positively impact these strategy goals: Access to Needed Services Nurturing and Responsive Child-Parent Relationships Healthy and Equitable Births Optimal Child Health and Development SUMMARY   Community-based doulas are an effective state strategy to
Child Care Subsidies positively impacts these strategy goals: Access to Needed Services Sufficient Household Resources Parents Ability to Work SUMMARY Child care subsidies are an effective state strategy to impact: Both child care subsidy receipt