Findings from Parent Focus Groups in the District of Columbia
Parental decisionmaking around child care is complex and can have widespread impacts on different aspects of daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for the early care and education field, adding another layer of complexity to this decision and causing child care disruptions for many families.
In this brief, we report findings from focus groups conducted in 2022 with parents and guardians in the District of Columbia to learn about their recent child care experiences amid the pandemic. We focus on parents’ child care search experiences, their priorities when selecting care, their recommendations to help other parents find child care, and their perceptions of the overall quality of the supply of child care in DC.
- Parents’ key priorities while searching for child care included location, comfort with the program, cost, and, for families receiving child care subsidies, the acceptance of subsidy vouchers.
- High costs, scarcity of open slots in desirable programs, difficulty finding information, restricted program hours, and concerns about health and safety protocols and care quality all posed challenges for parents during their search for child care.
- Parents who received a subsidy voucher to help pay for care described administrative burdens associated with the subsidy voucher application process and a more limited pool of programs they could use with their voucher.
- Personal connections and word-of-mouth recommendations made the search process easier and helped parents identify child care programs that met their quality standards. Proximity to programs in their apartment buildings or neighborhoods also helped ease the search process.
- Parents used a wide variety of resources to search for child care, including search engines and websites, word of mouth and social media, and assistance from human services administration staff. Knowing how to navigate online resources made the search process easier for parents and helped them narrow down their options.
- For other parents searching for child care, participants recommended using online resources, considering how program location factors into their priorities, asking people within their personal and online networks for recommendations, and taking their children to visit potential programs.