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Child Care Instability: Definitions, Context, and Policy Implications

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Document date: December 21, 2010
Released online: December 27, 2010


Child care instability affects children's development, parent's employment, and family stability. This paper describes why it matters, discusses definitional and measurement challenges, provides a framework to examine links between instability in child care and family domains, and examines the causes of instability (including child care subsidy policy and practice). Findings suggest that policies supporting stability in child care could interrupt the cascading effect of instability in other domains. Policy strategies to improve the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)/Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), such as funding, voucher flexibility, eligibility, quality of care, and referral systems, are examined.

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Executive Summary

In recent years, an emerging body of research has examined child care instability and continuity, and the role they play in the lives of low-income children and families. Policymakers are increasingly interested in child care instability and continuity of care as well. This focus is timely, given that the major federal-state child care program—the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF, also known as the Child Care and Development Block Grant or CCDBG)—is up for reauthorization, thus providing an opportunity to address concerns about child care stability during the forthcoming policy discussion.

This paper is designed to support this emerging interest and inform the forthcoming policy debate. It first looks at what is and is not known about child care stability, then provides a framework to explore the implications of child care instability for children's development, parental employment, and the often dynamic lives of low-income families. It also discusses the policy implications of these findings, with a particular focus on the CCDF. Finally, it highlights areas where future research is needed.

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Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Employment | Families and Parenting | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net

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