Brief Parents’ Child Care Experiences During the Pandemic
Findings from Focus Groups with Parents in the District of Columbia
Eleanor Lauderback, Soumita Bose, Heather Sandstrom, Catherine Kuhns, Eve Mefferd
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The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant disruptions and reshaping of the child care landscape across the country. Through focus groups with parents and guardians in the District of Columbia in 2022, we sought to understand families’ experiences with child care during this tumultuous time.

This brief focuses on parents’ experiences with their current child care providers, their reflections on recent child care staff turnover, and the District’s efforts to achieve pay equity for the early childhood educator workforce.

Key Takeaways

  • When asked what they liked most about their current child care providers, parents frequently cited reliable and consistent communication from the program, staff quality and continuity, and quality learning activities and structured curricula.
  • When asked what they liked least about their current child care providers, parents most often mentioned a lack of or inconsistent communication from the program.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic heightened parental concerns about the health and safety of their children, adding another layer of complexity to child care decisionmaking. Parents reflected on key issues that arose during the pandemic, including outbreak mitigation protocols such as temporary program closures that forced families to keep children at home or obtain alternative care arrangements. Additional concerns included the relaxing of masking and testing requirements in child care programs.
  • Parents reported a mix of experiences with staff turnover. Nearly half of parents we spoke to had observed staff leave their programs. Parents speculated on reasons why early educators are leaving the field in such high numbers, including low pay, high cost of living, and COVID-19-related challenges. Some parents shared how staff turnover negatively affected their children and suggested ways to improve staff retention.
  • When discussing the District’s Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund, nearly three-quarters of parents expressed positive views of the fund, with a small number of parents expressing concerns and the remainder expressing neutral views or not commenting.
  • Parents expressed deep appreciation and empathy for child providers and staff, reflecting on their importance for children’s healthy development and their commitment to the children despite low pay.
Research Areas Children and youth Families Greater DC
Tags COVID-19 Child care and early childhood education
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis
States District of Columbia
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