The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 27, 2012

Low-income working parents struggle to secure quality child care

August 27, 2012

The first in this week's four-part MetroTrends series about the struggle to locate, access, and afford high-quality child care. Still to come:  describing the challenges to understanding child care options, the shortage of quality care, and making child care affordable and accessible

With back-to-school season quickly approaching, working parents across the United States are doing the annual scramble to secure child care. Just two months ago they went through the same struggle to find child care for the summer. For most parents, securing quality child care is not just a seasonal issue but rather a year-round struggle. These tough decisions are even more challenging for low-income working families. Low-income parents often experience fluctuating work schedules, nontraditional hours, inflexible work policies that limit their child care options, and more limited financial resources to purchase high-quality care. In addition, the supply of quality care is generally more limited in low-income communities. Low-income parents’ decisions about care are ultimately tied to the available supply of programs and providers, parental awareness of child care options, and the accessibility and affordability of such care.

But why focus on child care as a key work support for families? Because disruptions in care can interfere with children’s healthy development and parents’ employment. Further, the stress incurred from lower-quality and unreliable arrangements that fail to meet parents’ and children’s needs may worsen parents’ work performance and their relationships at home.

In this four-part MetroTrends series, we will draw from a multiyear Urban Institute study of low-income families in Providence, Rhode Island, and Seattle-White Center, Washington, and  examine what we learned about three key contextual constraints on parents’ child care choices—parental awareness, the available supply, and accessibility and affordability. We will also recommend policy and programmatic solutions to increase accessibility to, and awareness of, this key work support for families.

Stay tuned - tomorrow: the difficulty of finding child care resources

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