In Our Hands

The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy

288 pages

March, 2017

ISBN: 9781479860296



Add to Cart Available: 2/1/2017

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Elizabeth Palley is Professor at the Adelphi School of Social Work.   

All books by Elizabeth Palley

Corey S. Shdaimah is Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

All books by Corey S. Shdaimah

A call for better child care policies, exploring the reasons why there has been so little headway on a problem that touches so many families.  

Working mothers are common in the United States. In over half of all two-parent families, both parents work, and women’s paychecks on average make up 35 percent of their families’ incomes. Most of these families yearn for available and affordable child care—but although most developed countries offer state-funded child care, it remains scarce in the United States. And even in prosperous times, child care is rarely a priority for U.S. policy makers.  

In In Our Hands: The Struggle for U.S. Child Care Policy, Elizabeth Palley and Corey S. Shdaimah explore the reasons behind the relative paucity of U.S. child care and child care support. They examine the history of child care advocacy and legislation in the United States, from the Child Care Development Act of the 1970s that was vetoed by Nixon through the Obama administration’s Child Care Development Block Grant. The book includes data from interviews with 23 prominent child care and early education advocates and researchers who have spent their careers seeking expansion of child care policy and funding and an examination of the legislative debates around key child care bills of the last half-century. Palley and Shdaimah analyze the special interest and niche groups that have formed around existing policy, arguing that such groups limit the possibility for debate around U.S. child care policy. 


  • "Whether you are a parent, provider or policy wonk, this book will help you understand why quality child care is so difficult to find and even more challenging to afford. It will then lift your spirits with some reasonable solutions."

    —Dana E. Friedman, Founder and President, The Early Years Institute

  • "This book tells us why, despite a growing number of women in the workforce and the well-documented struggles of working families across the economic spectrum to access and afford child care, the U.S. has been unable to make any headway on a problem that touches so many families.  Palley and Shdiamah look through the lens of social movement theory to remind us that in the context of U.S. culture and politics, building a broad based movement around child care is essential if we are to move from a piecemeal approach to comprehensive policy.  The authors' conversations with long-time advocates and activists lead to provocative questions about how to reframe the child care issue toward building a broad-based movement in the context of today's challenges and opportunities. This book is a must-read for advocates, union leaders and activists, early childhood workers and educators."

    —Denise Dowell , Early Learning and Care Programs, CSEA

  • "A first rate piece of public policy advocacy which advances in a most comprehensive form the issue of a national policy for child care in this country. [This book] incorporates the essence of many political debates and the actual language of the people who attempted to move forward with the child care agenda over the past decades."

    —David Katner, Tulane University

  • "A first rate comprehensive and contemporary analysis of the history of child care in the United States and the failure to address adequate policy for the poor. The book provides an extensive literature review and assessment of the political process at the national and state levels. Palley and Shadimah highlight the reasons for the inability of pro child care forces to develop an effective coalition. This book presents a long overdue look at the absence of national policy on child care and suggests some possible  approaches to address this issue in the future."

    —Joyce Gelb, Professor Emerita, City College and Graduate Center CUNY

  • "In their quest to understand why the United States lags so far behind Western Europe in supporting early child care, Dr. Palley and Dr. Shdaimah interviewed advocates, researchers and others who have been working to address the issue."

    —Bonnie Eissner, Erudition

  • "A deep dive into the history of child care policy in the United States and an examination of the cultural forces which have influenced the debate as well as the lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders who have shaped the availability of child care in America today."

    NBC News

  • “This book’s main contribution, and it is a valuable one, is to illuminate some of the specific organizational and strategic hurdles that lie in the way of a universal, government-supported child care system.  Many commentators have lamented the United States’ failure to establish such a system, and indeed, as noted above, the first part of the book is mainly a synthesis of the substantial literature examining child care policy both outside and inside the U.S.  However, Palley and Shdaimah’s research into what child care advocates actually think about their own work brings a unique perspective on this issue.  Their discussion of these interviews, which happily includes a number of quotes from subjects, is both interesting and thought-provoking.  Based on this research, the authors are able to offer a remarkably fine-grained critique of current advocacy efforts, along with very specific recommendations for change. In Our Hands was clearly a labor of love for its two authors . . . . The book is scholarly in tone and scope, but there is an underlying note of urgency that amplifies the authors’ arguments.” 

    Law and Politics Book Review

  • "Palley and Shdaimah have done a commendable job at tackling such a difficult task. Given the fragmentation of U.S. childcare policy, their rich, historical analysis provides an important integration of multiple sources of data and literature. Their interviews with respondents from a variety of interest groups, experts, and childcare advocates provide key insights into how childcare is framed and why it is not viewed as a necessary public good in the USA . . . . [T]his book makes an important contribution. It clearly shows the mechanisms underlying childcare policy developments in the USA and is rather unique in its social movement approach to understanding childcare advocacy." 

    Community, Work & Family

  • "This book provides a great overview of barriers within the political system and illustrates many of the unmet needs of families and children in the current system. The analysis of the child care movement as an effective social movement adds to the current literature and provides insights for practitioners about how to move forward."


  • "The authors make a compelling case that for too long, child care has been marginalized as an issue, in part because it has been framed as a personal responsibility . . . As authors Elizabeth Palley and Corey Shdaimah document in In Our Hands, this draconian choice between providing cash or care is not a personal failure. It is a collective failure reflected in the lack of a national child care policy."

    Families and Work Institute

  • "Palley and Shdaimah's book is at its best in revealing the tensions among child care advocates."

    The American Prospect

  • “Palley and Shadaimah have produced an excellent mixed methods study on the state of child-care policy in the US. . . . This excellent book will help readers understand a difficult problem and serve as a call to arms for change.”


  • “[T]he book makes a scholarly contribution with its comprehensive approach and rich detail regarding the history and current status of child care policy.  Use of policy theories, furthermore, contributes to our understanding of policymaking more broadly.”

    Political Science Quarterly

  • “This book offers an approachable, intelligent treatment of child care that is suitable for undergraduate and graduate academic audiences, activists, policymakers, and the general public.”

    Journal of Women, Politics & Policy