Understanding Parents’ Child Care Decision-Making: A Foundation for Child Care Policy Making

Publication Date: February 15, 2011


Policies such as those related to child care subsidies and quality rating and improvement systems are designed to increase the likelihood that child care and education arrangements meet developmental needs of children and employment needs of parents. Ultimately, parents select child care arrangements, and the quality and stability of these arrangements are affected by parents’ decisions. The decisions parents make regarding child care affect the ability of child care policies to achieve desired outcomes. How well policies “fit” into and support the complex parental child care decision-making process affects achievement of policy goals.

Child care is one component of a complex set of family management decisions that are often made simultaneously. For example, parents commonly make child care, employment, and transportation decisions at the same time. Parents attempt to find a child care solution that meets both child development and employment goals. Parents work to find the solution which best fits their situation, but the resulting child care arrangement(s) may or may not meet all their goals.

Child care and early education decision-making cannot be understood outside of the world in which a family lives and works, and understanding this context is key to creating child care and early education policies that support parental decision-making. Using a graphic representation of the decision-making process, this paper provides insights into the forces that shape parents’ child care and early education decisions. The goal of this brief is to help policy makers by graphically depicting the complexity of child care decision-making revealed through research.

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