Parents’ Reasons for Searching for Early Care and Education and Results of Search: An Analysis Using the Access Framework

Publication Date: April 2, 2021
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  • Pages: 13
  • Published: 2021

Introduction

Research Questions

  1. Why did parents with young children search for a care provider?
  2. What percentage of parents found a new care provider?
  3. Why did some parents’ searches end without using a new care provider?

Access to high-quality early care and education (ECE) is important for all families. However, the reasons why parents search for care may differ and some families have difficulty finding the care they need. This snapshot presents nationally representative data on why parents search for care for their young children and the reasons for not enrolling with a new provider after such a search. Parents’ reasons for searching for care and for not enrolling with a new provider after a search are examined using a multi-dimensional, family-focused definition of access to care presented in Defining and Measuring Access to High-Quality Early Care and Education: A Guidebook for Policymakers and Researchers. Reasons are categorized into a focus on affordability (e.g., cost considerations), meeting parents’ needs (e.g., finding care that is close to home or work), and supporting children’s development (e.g., providing a stimulating learning environment).  Patterns in parents’ search and use of child care are examined by age of child and by household income.

Purpose

The purpose of this snapshot is to illustrate some of the factors that drive demand for child care for children under age 6, not yet in kindergarten. Findings also describe the challenges that parents face when searching for providers for the first time or when looking for a new provider.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Almost half (46%) of all parents reporting about a child under age 6, not yet in kindergarten, searched for care in the two years prior to the 2012 survey.
  • Two out of three parents (66%) searched for care for reasons related to meeting parents’ needs (e.g., so that a parent could work or attend school), 30 percent searched for care to support child development (e.g., to provide the child with educational or social enrichment), 2 percent searched for reasons related to affordability, and 2 percent searched for other reasons.
  • Almost two thirds (60%) of parents who searched for care enrolled their child with a new provider.
  • Parents who searched for care for reasons related to parents’ needs were more likely to enroll with a provider (64%) compared to those who searched for care to support child development (53%).

Findings Across Household Income

  • Parents from higher-income households were more likely to search for care compared to parents from lower-income households (51% vs. 41%).
  • Among parents who searched for care, those from higher-income households were more likely to enroll with a new provider compared to parents from lower-income households (70% vs. 54%).
  • Parents from lower-income households were more likely than parents from higher-income households to cite a lack of affordability as their main reason for not enrolling with a new provider (39% vs. 24%).

Findings Across Child Age

  • Parents with younger children were four times as likely to report searching for care to meet parents’ needs than to support child development (77% vs. 19%); parents with older children were more evenly distributed in their reasons for search.
  • Parents with older children were more likely to enroll with a new provider compared to parents with younger children (66% vs. 55%).

Methods

Using data from the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) Household Survey, this snapshot focuses on the responses of parents reporting on a child under age 6 (not in kindergarten) who searched for care in the 24 months prior to the administration of the survey. There were 2,003 respondents who searched for care; with survey weights applied, these parents were representative of 5,770,294 parents. Analyses focused on parents’ main reasons for looking for child care for children under age 6, not yet in kindergarten, as well as the results of parents’ search for care, and their main reason for not enrolling with a new provider considered during their search.  When the sample size permitted, findings are presented separately for parents with younger (birth to 36 months) and older (36 to 72 months) children; and for parents from lower-income (<200% federal poverty level (FPL)) and higher-income (>=200% FPL) households.

Citation

Hill, Z., Bali, D., Gebhart, T., Schaefer, C., & Halle, T. (2021). Parents’ reasons for searching for care and results of search: An analysis using the Access Framework. OPRE Report #2021—39. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

ECE:
Early care and education
Younger children:
This term refers to children under 36 months of age.
Older children:
This term refers to children who are between the ages of 36 months to 72 months, but not yet in kindergarten.
Lower-income households:
This term refers to households where the total income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
Higher-income households:
This refers to households where the total income is at or above 200% of the FPL. We are not suggesting that households with income that is at or above 200% FPL are high income.