The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 28, 2012

Raising awareness about local child care options

August 28, 2012

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

“It gets to the point where you feel you’re hitting your head up against the wall…and nobody’s up there to help you. - Edith, a 36-year-old single white mother living in Providence.

Imagine for a moment that you are a low-income parent who just moved your family to a new city, and you need to quickly secure child care for your three children. How and where do you start the search?

In all likelihood you will turn first to your social networks (e.g., family, friends, neighbors, coworkers) for information and advice on available child care options; understandably, parents value personal referrals.  But if that is the only informational source you use, your awareness of child care options will depend on how well-informed those friends and neighbors are, which isn’t always helpful.

And what happens if you don’t have anyone to call for advice? Maybe you’ll turn to a CCR&R (Child Care Resource and Referral agency) or a local human services agency. Unfortunately, some parents who visit a CCR&R report feeling dissatisfied with the experience due to time-intensive and esoteric search processes (especially challenging for the computer illiterate), online databases that can’t accommodate a refined search, and office hours that don’t extend beyond standard working hours. Further, the information that families receive sometimes proves to be outdated and unreliable.

If you are an immigrant parent, the struggle to learn about child care options is compounded. You aren’t only new to a city, but new to the culture, the U.S. workforce, and maybe new to the language. Fortunately, immigrant communities tend to produce strong and supportive social networks, and parents in those communities usually know of family child care providers, or informal caregivers like neighbors, within their social network. Regardless, parents’ choices are limited when they aren’t aware of all their options—particularly those that might better meet their unique needs.

So what can we do to raise awareness of child care options? Based on feedback from parents in our study, here are a few strategies:

  1. Improve outreach to vulnerable families by strategically placing information on early care and education programs in frequently visited locations in low-income neighborhoods, such as community centers, medical clinics, WIC offices, religious institutions, public transportation sites, and other local organizations.
  2. Make informational materials easy to understand and translated into other common languages for families with limited English proficiency.
  3. Increase access to CCR&Rs and local human services agencies by extending office hours one or two days each week.
  4. Encourage CCR&Rs and local agencies to communicate with child care providers to maintain updated provider databases.

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