6

Cross-Cutting Conclusions from the Knowledge Base

Over the course of the workshops, the discussion converged on several cross-cutting conclusions that are now emerging from the knowledge base about the current status of child care for low-income families in the United States. This final section of the report summarizes these conclusions, none of which should be viewed as formal consensus opinions. They offer insights from research and from the experience of state officials who administer federal child care subsidies for low-income families into salient issues affecting these families ' efforts to obtain safe and reliable care for their children while they prepare for work and maintain employment. They also point to promising avenues for future research.

  1. Low-income families—those on public assistance and those with marginal employment—resemble other families in the considerations that guide their child care preferences and choices, balancing perceptions of what will promote their children's sense of security and well-being with the demands of parents' jobs. They differ, however, in the degree to which financial and other constraints (marginal jobs, available arrangements, ease of access to relatives) limit their ability to match the arrangements they use with what they most want.

  • The price of child care and the job demands of low-wage work (e.g., evening hours, rotating schedules) pose serious constraints to the child



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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops 6 Cross-Cutting Conclusions from the Knowledge Base Over the course of the workshops, the discussion converged on several cross-cutting conclusions that are now emerging from the knowledge base about the current status of child care for low-income families in the United States. This final section of the report summarizes these conclusions, none of which should be viewed as formal consensus opinions. They offer insights from research and from the experience of state officials who administer federal child care subsidies for low-income families into salient issues affecting these families ' efforts to obtain safe and reliable care for their children while they prepare for work and maintain employment. They also point to promising avenues for future research. Low-income families—those on public assistance and those with marginal employment—resemble other families in the considerations that guide their child care preferences and choices, balancing perceptions of what will promote their children's sense of security and well-being with the demands of parents' jobs. They differ, however, in the degree to which financial and other constraints (marginal jobs, available arrangements, ease of access to relatives) limit their ability to match the arrangements they use with what they most want. The price of child care and the job demands of low-wage work (e.g., evening hours, rotating schedules) pose serious constraints to the child

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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops care options that are realistically available to low-income, working families. All families report a primary concern with the well-being of their children when choosing child care. In addition, low-income families place a special emphasis on issues of safety and trust in the provider. Low-income families headed by single, working mothers are substantially, more likely than other families (including low-income, two-parent families) to express dissatisfaction with their child care and a desire to change arrangements. There is consistent evidence of a relatively low supply of care for infants, for school-age children, for children with disabilities and special health care needs, and for parents with unconventional or shifting work hours. These scarcities exacerbate other barriers that low-income families experience in matching type of care used with type of care that best meets their needs. The quality of care that is available to low-income families is highly uneven: a sizable minority of care falls into a range of quality that some conclude may compromise development, and there is a very limited supply of arrangements at the high end of the quality spectrum. There is a very wide range of quality within every type of care. Children from low-income families—particularly those that are exclusively dependent on maternal income —are enrolled disproportionately in poorer-quality home-based child care arrangements; these inequities in access to quality do not appear to characterize child care centers, although this may be due to the relatively small proportion of low-income families who can avail themselves of generally part-day enriched early intervention programs. Numerous observational studies have demonstrated that variation in quality has discernible and significant effects on children's development, perhaps more so for low-income children. Continuity of care is more an elusive dream than a reality. The instability of infant care is of special concern: one of three infants experiences at least three different arrangements in the first year of life. Unstable child care affects all families, but poor and low-income

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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops families are unduly affected by irregular and shifting work schedules, marginal employment, and, sometimes, the financial necessity of relying on fragile child care arrangements that can impede their efforts to obtain stable and reliable child care for their children. Child care subsidies appear to facilitate low-income families' efforts to obtain and maintain paid employment by enabling them to obtain care that fits with their work schedules and that offers them assurance of their children's safety and nurturance; lack of subsidies may create major barriers to families' work efforts. Low-income parents who work and those in school cite child care costs as a major problem. The degree of the problem varies with access to subsidies. Low-income parents' perceptions of care they obtain as safe and dependable may also affect the success with which they are able to meet the requirements of welfare-to-work initiatives. Reimbursement rates that do not differ greatly from local market rates for child care make it possible for low-income families to avail themselves of child care arrangements that are similar in quality to those to which higher-income families have access. Federal funding levels that restrict states' capacity to provide subsidies to all eligible families and pressures on state budgets that affect their willingness to match federal dollars, as well as the fragmented structure of current child care subsidies, lead to a series of detrimental consequences: State child care administrators are faced with difficult decisions regarding the allocation of scarce public subsidies across nonworking families who are on public assistance and those who are often equally poor or near poverty but are working. Disruptions in funding raise concerns about continuity of care for children and their parents, and may actually lead some families to cycle back onto public assistance when the loss of child care disrupts employment. Subsidies now operate as a system driven by parents' activities, with source of funding changing as families move from nonworking poverty to low-income work and beyond. Continuity of care, so important for young children, can be disrupted if states do not make special efforts to avoid

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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops breaks in support or drops in reimbursement rates absent increased income. It can be difficult for parents, providers, and agencies to maneuver through the system; absent outreach efforts, parents are often uninformed of subsidies for which they are eligible. Overall levels of public assistance for child care relative to demand create major tensions at the state and local levels between funding direct services and supporting efforts to improve quality of care.

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