New York businesses alleviated the labor shortage caused by World War II by turning to women, increasing numbers of whom left their domestic roles to find good wages in defense-related industries. In addition to single women and childless wives, mothers answered the call to work. The need for more women in the work force, combined with the needs of their children, gave rise to State-sponsored child care.
The New York State War Council, as part of its duty to ensure an adequate labor supply, recognized the need for child care programs and in 1942 organized the Committee on Child Care, Development, and Protection. The committee initiated a two-phase program: one for pre- school children, the other for school-age children. The program was designed to encourage women into war industries which the War Manpower Commission estimated needed an additional 250,000 women to augment the 500,000 already in the work force. In late 1942, the War Council responded to charges that the committee was not cooperating with other groups interested in child care, such as churches and private charities, by reorganizing the committee and renaming it the New York State Committee on Child Care, Development, and Protection. It was an advisory board whose members were appointed by the governor and whose chairperson, Elsie M. Bond, was a paid employee of the War Council.
The new organization focused on prompting local war councils to develop child care committees, then assisting the committees in surveying their needs, providing services and equipment, and perhaps most importantly, obtaining State and federal funding. Often, the local committees would utilize existing day care facilities run by private or public agencies or churches. Congress's passage of the Lanham Act made federal funds available to most of these institutions, though eligibility rules changed from year to year. Generally, the federal government provided funds only to those areas which were experiencing labor shortages in order to provide women with the opportunity to work by relieving them of child care duties. Initially, the State only allocated funds for child care programs which received no federal funds. Therefore State funds were spent on programs which did not have great needs until late 1943, when the State changed its rules to fund any program regardless of the receipt of federal funds.
At the program's peak, the State received almost $3 million in federal support and provided child care to over 10,000 children. As the war progressed, the War Council's view of child care evolved: the program expanded and regulations loosened. Initially, child care was regarded as necessary to maximize the number of women in the work force, but in time the children's needs merged with the ability of the child care centers to serve them. Children from all families became eligible for day care programs which often provided meals, vaccinations, regular health checkups, and guidance counseling. Generally, facilities were open ten to twelve hours a day, thereby accommodating most work schedules. The program expanded child care facilities to include migrant labor camps during the summer of 1944. This allowed many middle- and low- income families to send their children to child care, permitting the mother to work and provide a higher standard of living for the family.
Necessities of war moved the State to provide child care; the committee did not plan to become a social service organization, though it did. However, as the exigencies of war disappeared, the child care program's stated purpose disappeared also. After the war in Europe ended, federal funding was reduced, then cut off. In August 1945, Governor Dewey announced that all State funding for child care would end in March 1946, though some funding continued through the Youth Commission. While some child care centers remained open as day nurseries, and the migrant camps day care facilities continued until April 1948, all other operations ceased in October 1947.