Conceptual Frameworks for Child Care Decision-Making, White Paper

Publication Date: October 15, 2010


There is widespread and growing interest in how parents make decisions about their children’s care. Over 60 percent of children spend time in non-parental care settings (U.S. Census, 2006, Table 1b). These settings are important contexts of child development and critical employment supports for working parents. Moreover, considerable public policy resources have been directed at assisting parents, especially low-income parents, with their child care needs. In particular, the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) aims to help low-income families secure child care in order to improve education, training, and work outcomes and improve the quality of child care. CCDF was designed to increase parental choice of care by reducing the cost of child care across settings, thereby increasing parental access to affordable care options that fit their needs and preferences. CCDF also supports parental choice of care by investing in activities that improve the quality and availability of child care. Similarly, with the goal of improving school readiness, Head Start and other early education programs recognize that high quality early childhood programs have been shown to “pay off” in the short and long terms both for individual children and society (Heckman, 2006; Karoly, 2001). Despite these significant advances in public infrastructure supporting non-parental care, child care arrangements are too often of mediocre or poor quality for children (Helburn, 1995: NICHD, 2000), unstable (Scott, London, & Hurst, 2005; Meyers et. al., 2001; Chaudry, 2004), a considerable out-of-pocket expense for families (Gianerelli & Barsimontov, 2000; Smith, 2000; U.S. Census, 2006, Table 6), and inconvenient for parents in terms of location and/or hours of operation (Johansen, Leibowitz, & Waite, 1996; Scott et al., 2005; Chaudry, 2004). Although the child care market is quite diverse, including a wide range of arrangements that vary considerably in terms of structure, cost, provider characteristics, quality, location, and so on, the options available to any particular family are constrained and may not match family needs.

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