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Perspectives on the child care search process in low-income, urban neighbourhoods in the United States


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This qualitative research study explored the child care search and selection process from the perspectives of families living in low-income, urban neighbourhoods in the United States. Findings based on interviews with 40 mothers and grandmothers caring for African American preschool-age children showed that child care searches began with referrals from trusted sources followed by site visits. Caregivers’ assessments of a settings’ environments and activities informed decisions to enrol their children. Barriers related to availability, accessibility, and affordability in participants’ neighbourhoods, however, greatly constrained options. Previous experience with other child care providers also informed searches. State-designated quality ratings had little to no influence on the decision-making process. The findings demonstrate the potential challenges and complexities families face when seeking and selecting child care in low-income, urban communities. This work underscores the need for greater access to high-quality care in underserved neighbourhoods and for increases in family and neighbourhood-level supports.
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Early Child Development and Care
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Perspectives on the child care search process in
low-income, urban neighbourhoods in the United
Kaitlin K. Moran
To cite this article: Kaitlin K. Moran (2019): Perspectives on the child care search process in low-
income, urban neighbourhoods in the United States, Early Child Development and Care, DOI:
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Published online: 10 Jul 2019.
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Perspectives on the child care search process in low-income, urban
neighbourhoods in the United States
Kaitlin K. Moran
Department of Teacher Education, Saint Josephs University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
This qualitative research study explored the child care search and selection
process from the perspectives of families living in low-income, urban
neighbourhoods in the United States. Findings based on interviews with
40 mothers and grandmothers caring for African American preschool-
age children showed that child care searches began with referrals from
trusted sources followed by site visits. Caregiversassessments of a
settingsenvironments and activities informed decisions to enrol their
children. Barriers related to availability, accessibility, and aordability in
participantsneighbourhoods, however, greatly constrained options.
Previous experience with other child care providers also informed
searches. State-designated quality ratings had little to no inuence on
the decision-making process. The ndings demonstrate the potential
challenges and complexities families face when seeking and selecting
child care in low-income, urban communities. This work underscores the
need for greater access to high-quality care in underserved
neighbourhoods and for increases in family and neighbourhood-level
Received 26 January 2019
Accepted 6 July 2019
Low-income; urban; child
care; qualitative
Every day in the United States, millions of children under the age of ve are cared for in a variety of
early childcare settings and arrangements. A child may be cared for by a parent, relative, nonrelative,
or he or she may be enrolled in an organized facility such as family or home care, centre-based care,
nursery school, preschool, or Head Start. Arrangements often depend on the needs and priorities of
the family, as well as the landscape of available, accessible, and aordable care in their communities.
The system, however, is one that has been described as fragmented.The system has neither a gov-
erning body nor a single set of standards that applies to all providers. Consequently, there are signi-
cant inconsistencies in the quality of care provided to the millions of children served in childcare
settings (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2015).
Given that children attending childcare typically range in age from 6 weeks to 5 years-old,
parents or caregivers largely assume the responsibility for making childcare choices. For families
who select formal arrangements, organized child care settings often serve dual purposes for
families by not only providing external child care support for working caregivers, but also in
serving as the rst educational environment for young children. The education piece, however,
is largely dependent on the quality of the care setting. Estimates suggest that only 10% of child
care meets the quality requirements shown to lead to positive eects on childrens outcomes
(Laughlin, 2013).
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Kaitlin K. Moran Department of Teacher Education, Saint Josephs University, 5600 City
Avenue, Merion Hall 255, Philadelphia, PA 19131, USA
In low-income, urban neighbourhoods in the United States, where minority populations are over-
represented, families face signicant barriers to accessing high-quality care. Limited availability,
accessibility, and aordability frequently present barriers and as a result, children of colour frequently
spend time in arrangements that have little to no quality (Chaudry et al., 2011; Doggett & Wat, 2010).
To more deeply understand the context of this phenomenon, the following study considers the per-
spectives of 40 women who navigated the process of nding and selecting organized child care
arrangements for African American children in low-income, urban communities in one U.S. metropo-
litan region. The study begins by overviewing the landscapes of child care and high-quality child care
in the United States then considers the importance of high-quality care, barriers to access, and child
care selection patterns for African American children from low income, urban backgrounds
The landscape of child care in the United States
If children are not in the care of a parent, the three types of child care most commonly used in the
United States are relative care, home or family care, and centre-based care. Relative care may be
oered by a sibling, grandparent, or other relative either in the childs home or the relatives
home and the cost, if any, will depends on the familys arrangement. Home or family care most
often occurs in the providers home. When compared to centre-based case, cost is often more reason-
able. The provider may be registered, or have a license or certication. Centre-based care is most
often oered in a larger setting for the purpose of serving greater numbers of children in designated
spaces with multiple caregivers. Every state requires that child care centres have licenses. Centre-
based care is typically the most costly type of child care, though subsidized care may be available
for families who meet income requirements. Most centres are structured to promote early develop-
ment and education, and examples include Head Start, public or private preschools, pre-kindergar-
tens, and daycare centres, which may be housed in a variety of physical locations (Swenson, 2008).
The most recent census data shows that as of 2011, approximately 12.5 million of the 20.4 million
children under 5 years of age in the United States had regular child care arrangements. Of this popu-
lation, the majority were in relative care. Thirty-three percent of children were in nonrelative care,
including in organized facilities. Among children between the ages of three and ve, who are con-
sidered preschool-age, one-third were not in regular care arrangements, while close to one-fourth
attended organized facilities. Organized arrangements included thirteen percent of children in
centre-based care, eleven percent in nonrelative home-based care, six percent in nursery or pre-
school, and ve percent in family day care settings (Laughlin, 2013).
Geographic dierences
Child care markets in the United States have been shown to vary greatly even at the neighbourhood
level. Small-area analyses, for example, are now possible due to GIS systems, and have been shown to
be the most accurate means to assess child care supply because even within an urban county or zip
code, the supply of child care is likely to be limited by unaccounted for factors, such as zoning codes
(Davis & Connelly, 2005; Queralt & Witte, 1998). In terms of high level geographic dierences, rural
children, birth to ve, are just as likely as urban children to receive non-parental child care.
However, this population is more likely to receive relative care and less likely to be in centre pro-
grammes because centre programmes are not readily available (Swenson, 2008).
Socioeconomic dierences
In 2014, nearly one in four children under the age of ve years old were living below the federal
poverty line, with an annual income of $19,790 or less for a family of three (DeNavas-Walt &
Proctor, 2015). Child care arrangements for this population largely reect the employment status
of parents and therefore, the needs of the family. Low-income children are more likely than children
from either poor or higher income backgrounds to be in the care of a parent during working hours.
Poor and low-income children with employed mothers are less likely to be in centre-based care as
compared to higher income peers. This population is more likely to be cared for by a relative at
home than are children from families with higher incomes (Child Trends, 2016).
Racial and ethnic dierences
Among children with employed mothers, Hispanic children are most likely to be in parental care,
while black children are least likely to be cared for by a parent. African American children are
most likely to be in centre-based care, while Hispanic children are least likely. As compared to
white and Asian children, African American and Hispanic children are both more likely to be cared
for by a relative in the home. White and Asian children, however, are more likely to be cared for in
the home by a non-relative. In terms of organized facilities, eight-four percent of African American
four year old children and seventy-three percent of Hispanic four year old children regularly attended
non- parental care programmes. Nationally, Head Start programmes serve greater numbers of African
American children, one in four, and Hispanic children, nearly one in ve, where such programmes
service single digit percentages of white and Asian children. However, white and Asian children
were more likely to attend other types of centre-based programmes (U.S. Department of Education,
African American children from low-income, urban backgrounds
In 2014, almost forty percent of African American children lived in poverty (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor,
2015). This population, which is overly represented in urban, low-income communities, is more likely
to be in nonparental care as compared to their White and Hispanic counterparts (Burstein & Layzer,
2007; Mulligan, Brimhall, West, & Chapman, 2005). Further, children who are African American, come
from low-income backgrounds, and have mothers with lower levels of education or who work spend
the most time on average in nonparental care (Mulligan et al., 2005).
The landscape of high-quality child care in the United States
When young children receive care outside of the home, the quality of that care plays a crucial role in
their development. Child care quality has been dened along two primary dimensions: structural
quality and process quality (Bigras et al., 2010). Structural quality typically refers to elements of
quality that are regulated by the state or government. These elements include teachersexperience
and education/credentials, class sizes, and teacherchild ratios (Tout et al., 2010). Process quality gen-
erally refers to classroom environs. Such environs might include teaching content and/or curriculum,
instructional methods and delivery, and teacherchild interactions (Bigras et al., 2010). Programmes
of quality are those staed by skilled employees that adhere to small class sizes, maintain low student
to adult ratios, use age and developmentally appropriate curricula, foster language development, cul-
tivate rich learning environments, and nurture reciprocal, positive relationships with children and
their families (Center on the Developing Child, 2007). While there is some evidence that structural
quality has increased in light of recent pushes for more requirements and regulations (Shaul &
General Accounting Oce, 2003), process quality has been found to be low, particularly in pro-
grammes serving low-income communities (Early et al., 2010; Justice, Mashburn, Hamre, & Pianta,
2008; La Paro et al., 2009).
When early childhood education programmes for preschool-age children are well-designed, they
have been shown to produce eects large enough to close about half of the later achievement gap.
Quality programming leads to gains on cognitive tests, improved social and emotional development,
and improved school outcomes, including reduced grade retention and special education placement,
as well as increased high school graduation rates (Barnett, 2013; Camilli, Vargas, Ryan, & Barnett,
2010). The rate of return on high-qualityprogrammes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds
specically has been estimated at six to ten percent per annum by economists (Grunewald & Rolnick,
African-American children from low-income backgrounds: the importance of high-quality
care, barriers to access, and child care selection trends
For no other community of individuals is access to high-quality early childhood education and child
care more essential than it is for African-American children (Barnett, Carolan, & Johns, 2013). Substan-
tial longitudinal evidence, including the results of the Abecedarian and Perry Preschool experiments,
the Chicago Longitudinal Study, and research on state-funded Pre-K programming, supports the
impacts of quality early childhood education on the development and achievement of African Amer-
ican children from low-income backgrounds (Barnett, 2011; Gormley, Phillips, & Gayer, 2008; Ramey &
Stokes, 2009; Wong, Cook, Barnett, & Jung, 2008).
Recently, the results of the national Head Start Impact Study and the Infant Health and Develop-
ment Program experiment yielded similar results. The Head Start Impact Study found that Head Start
programming, long regarded as a model of quality for socioeconomically disadvantaged children, has
more pronounced eects for African American children than for children of other racial or ethnic
backgrounds. Positive outcomes for four-year old African American children who participated in
Head Start included sustained improvements in social-emotional development, fewer parent-
reported behaviour problems, fewer challenges with structured learning and peer and teacher inter-
actions, and stronger relationships with teacher (Puma et al., 2012). Results from the Infant Health and
Development Program showed greater impacts on later cognitive development and reading and
math achievement through age 18 for African American children (McCormick et al., 2006).
Despite substantiated benets, much of the care available to African American children from low-
income backgrounds is of little or low quality, which can be detrimental to development (Bernal &
Keane, 2011; Helburn, 1995; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2006). Large scale meta- analy-
sis of early childhood programming support the association between eective educational practices
and the impact on childrens cognitive development (Camilli et al., 2010). Though the extent to which
low-quality care yields adverse outcomes has been debated, and outcomes may not be accurately
captured by commonly used measures of quality (Keys et al., 2013), undoubtedly programmes of
little or no quality do not produce signicant positive gains for children (Hawkinson, Grien, Dong,
& Maynard, 2013).
Barriers to access
The majority of children from low-income families, and African American children in particular, lack
access to high-quality early childhood education due to a number of barriers (U.S. Department of
Education, 2010). Across all ethnicities, the number of African American children enrolled in low-
quality centre-based care is almost double that for both white and Hispanic children. According to
the National Center for Education Statistics, zero percent of African American children were found
to be enrolled in high-quality home care settings (Barnett et al., 2013).
In any given neighbourhood, the child care market itself is subject to contextual factors, which
include the availability and aordability of care as well as parental awareness of supply and cares
desirability for the family (Davis & Connelly, 2005; Sandstrom, Giesen, & Chaudry, 2012; Shlay, Tran,
Weinraub, & Harmon, 2005). Limited availability and aordability frequently present barriers to
care, particularly for low-income families and families reliant on nancial assistance. Recently,
increases in funding through monies such as those provided by the federal Child Care and Develop-
ment Fund, which provides assistance to low-income families, have brought to light the great discre-
pancies in the quality of care available in low-income communities. For these families, nding quality
care is a challenge because the supply itself is more limited. Further, high prices can make it very
dicult for low-income families to access reliable child care in formal settings (Sandstrom et al.,
2012). About 60% of funding for child care in the United States comes directly from parents (Mitchell,
Stoney, & Dichter, 2001). Regionally, the cost of full-time centre-based care for two children is the
highest single household expense in the Northeast and Midwest (Fraga, Dobbins, McCready, &
Child Care Aware of America, 2015). Head Start programmes, which provide quality care to
income-eligible families, currently serves just 42% of all eligible children. Early Head Start pro-
grammes serve less than 4% of income- eligible children (Blair, 2013). And while child care subsidies
and resource and referral services are available, low-income families overall have very few resources
from which to access quality care (Peyton, Jacobs, OBrien, & Roy, 2001).
While eorts by government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels can theoretically
impact the availability and aordability of high-quality care through funding eorts, early child-
hood education is not mandatory and the decision to enrol children ultimately lies with the
family. For care to be seen as desirable to parents, stakeholders need to understand how
parents dene quality child care (Shlay et al., 2005). Families may have limited access to infor-
mation about the hallmarks of quality care, which is often compounded by the need to enrol chil-
dren quickly or within a short time span due to workforce demands (Chaudry et al., 2011).
According to the National Study of Child Care for Low-Income Families, the average search
process for parents is just four weeks with approximately 41% of caregivers selecting care
within a day (Layzer, Goodson, & Brown-Lyons, 2007).
Child care selection
To capture how child care decision-making processes work, Webers(2011) child care choice concep-
tual model rst posited that the interplay of family and community contexts lead parents to select
arrangements. The process is aected to varying degrees by opportunities, constraints, and barriers,
particularly for families reliant on nancial assistance. For low-income families, the process becomes
particularly complex. Few families are able to enrol children in their preferred arrangements due to
issues of supply and aordability. Though they may have clear personal preferences and value crucial
aspects of care like educational opportunity, ultimately parents have to select care that is aordable,
convenient in terms location and hours, and conducive to work schedules. To nd care that ts and to
get information on public resources available to assist with cost, families from low-income back-
grounds have been show to rely heavily on social networking and operate with little awareness of
the formal systems in place to aid in nding and selecting care. In instances where formal systems
were employed, they were reported to be unhelpful (Chaudry et al., 2011).
The current study
In order to more fully understand how barriers to high-quality care impact young children and their
families, more nuanced examinations of how decisions are made are necessary. Because access to
high-quality early childhood education and child care is essential for African American children in par-
ticular, it is also crucial to understand the contexts within which decisions are made for this popu-
lation specically (Barnett et al., 2013). The following study seeks to capture these phenomena
through an examination of the experiences of 40 mothers and grandmothers, each of whom had
navigated the child care system in low-income, urban communities and found care for their pre-
school-age African American children.
This study adds to the conversation by providing insight from three urban, low-income commu-
nities in a metropolitan region not previously studied in this way. The studys design is unique in that
participants cared specically for African American children and children were enrolled in privately
run centres, sites that can be challenging to access. Examining the problem using an in-depth inter-
view-based lens was the most accurate way to deepen our understanding of the nuances of child
care selection. The study addressed the following research questions:
(1) How do caregivers search for child care in low-income, urban neighbourhoods?
(2) What aspects of care are most inuential in the decision-making process?
This study drew conceptually on Webers(2011) model of child care choice and theoretically on
bounded rationality and family capital literature. These theoretical frameworks aord an examination
of parentssocio-historical realities, which oer realistic and contextualized insight into the circum-
stances surrounding pre-choice processes.
Data used for this article comprised part of a comprehensive study on child care in low-income, urban
settings. This project included interviews with maternal primary caregivers who had enrolled their
African American children in one of three child care settings. It examined the processes they had
undergone to nd their current child care settings, as well as the factors they considered most impor-
tant when selecting those arrangements.
Data collection sites
This study included in-depth interviews with caregivers from three dierent child care centres, all
located in low-income, urban neighbourhoods in one metropolitan region. A low-income neighbour-
hood was dened as one where 40% or more of households lived below the federal poverty level.
Neighbourhoods were identied as eligible for study using publicly available city maps. The
centres ranged in quality according to the states Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS), a
voluntary programme for child care providers interested in improving their quality. This states
QRIS system was a four-tiered, laddered system where programmes with a rating of fourwere con-
sidered of the highest quality. Along the scale, programmes with ratings of one,’‘two,or threewere
considered of lesser quality and in need of varying degrees of improvement. Data collection for this
study took place at centres with QRIS ratings of one,’‘two,and three.The centres will hereafter be
referred to as Centre One,Centre Two,and Centre Three.
Participants were 40 women caring for African American preschool-age children (see Table 1). Thirty-
nine of the studys participants were African American; one white mother with a biracial son also par-
ticipated. Participantsages ranged from 20 to over 50 years old with the majority falling between 20
and 29 years old. Just over half of caregivers (n= 21) were caring for two or three children, with fewer
numbers of participants caring for one child (n= 15) or four or more children (n= 4). The majority of
women in the study were single and raising children in single-income households. The remaining
participants were either married, living with the childs father, or living with a partner. Twenty-six
women were employed. Eight were working part-time while in school and six (n= 6) were unem-
ployed at the time of study. Child care payment methods varied across participants with the majority
of families relying on subsidies or nancial aid. Two participants were in the process of securing
nancial assistance and were only able to aord part-time care, while six participants, split
between Centres Twoand Three,paid a private pay rate.
The researcher sought permission from two centre directors and one principal prior to collecting
data. In total, the researcher interviewed nine maternal primary caregivers from the Centre One,
15 from Centre Two,and 16 from Centre Three.The racial distribution of the studys participants
directly reected the racial distribution of each centre; the researcher also recruited an equal distri-
bution of women caring for boys and girls. Participation in the study was entirely voluntary.
The Universitys Institutional Review Board approved all methods and procedures. The studys
purpose, an overview of the voluntary interview process, and information regarding condentiality
and the benets of participation were shared with participants. Caregivers also signed consent
forms and the research obtained permission to audiotape each interview.
Data collection
The majority of interviews took place on-site unless participants requested that the interview take place
at an o-site location. In accordance with the formatting of in-depth phenomenological interviews,inter-
views lasted approximately one hour and were guided by an interview protocol with relevant themes.
Interviews were audio recorded, and parents were asked to consent to this audio recording. Interview
recordings were sent to an accredited transcription service. During the transcription phase, participant
condentiality was protected by using only participant initials. All data were housed in a password-
locked computer; the computer, all audio recording device, and all consent forms, were locked in a
safe in the researchersoce. Parents were oered a small monetary incentive to participate.
Data analysis
Data analysis consisted of an iterative process involving coding and conceptual memo-writing. Both
eld notes and interview transcripts were coded by the researcher using the HyperResearch data
management system and reviewed by the dissertation chair of the project. Memos were also
written and reviewed throughout the projects duration. Memos also helped to uncover any evidence
that would prove contradictory to emergent themes.
The child care search process
The studys interview protocol rst asked participants to describe the search process that led to their
current arrangement. With one exception, participants began the process by accessing their personal
Table 1. Participant characteristics (frequencies).
(n= 40)
Centre One
Centre Two
(n= 15)
Centre Three
(n= 16)
Maternal Race/Ethnicity
Black 39 9 15 15
White* 1 0 0 1
Maternal Age
2029 24 4 9 11
3039 13 2 6 5
4049 2 2 0 0
50+ 1 1 0 0
Number of Children/
4+ 4 2 1 1
Marital Status
Single 25 7 8 10
Married/With Partner 15 2 7 6
Employment Status
Full-time Employed 26 7 10 9
Part-time or In School 8 1 3 4
Unemployed 6 1 2 3
Child Care Payment Method**
Subsidy/Financial Aid 32 9 11 12
Part-time/Discount Pay 2 0 1 1
Full-time/Private Pay 6 0 3 3
*Participant with a biracial child.
**Centre Onedid not accept subsidies, oering scholarships, tuition remission, and fundraising opportunities as nancial aid for all
families instead. Centres Twoand Threehad participants who were in the process of securing subsidies and could only aord to
send children part-time at a discounted rate.
networks. Specically, caregivers sought referrals from a trusted source, typically a fellow parent or
caregiver who was a friend, relative, colleague, neighbour, or acquaintance. As Genesis explained,
It was a word of mouth.Whether it involved consulting a sister, sister-in-law, or friendly girl from
the neighbourhood,this process almost universally began by asking for recommendations. Only
Kathy, the sole exception to this reliance on referrals, sidestepped this initial step. Kathy felt disin-
clined to seek referrals: Word of mouth I really dontgoonIts going, seeing what it is like.
Though Kathy had not relied on word of mouth to nd her current centre, her words echoed the
second step that participants universally described in their search process. Upon hearing of a poten-
tial setting, caregivers recounted how they subsequently visited sites to conduct their own assess-
ment. As participants visited, they typically toured the site and met with key personnel, paying
particular attention to their level of comfort with the site director. Based on that assessment, care-
givers explained that they made what was often described as a judgement call based on maternal
instinct. Phrases like you go with your gut,’‘I felt comfortable,and I just basically went on a
feeling that I had that it would be a good t,were common ways to describe this step. When
sites fell short of caregiversassessments or left participants feeling uncomfortable or uneasy, they
were eliminated from contention and the search continued.
Important factors in the selection of care
After describing the search process, participants were asked to discuss aspects of care they con-
sidered important in making their decisions. Upon analysis, three key factors emerged as universally
important across all caregivers: the centres environment and activities, the sites availability, acces-
sibility, and aordability, and previous care experiences.
Characteristics of the care setting: environment and activities
Across all interviews, child care environments and how children spent their time in care were cited as
key factors weighed prior to enrolment. In terms of environment, caregivers paid particular attention
to childrens safety and to the centres sta. Safety was especially important as caregivers reported it
was the rst thing they looked for when rst visiting a site and an aspect of care they monitored con-
stantly post-enrolment. What constituted keeping children safe often included the centres physical
location, front door security and sign-in procedures, physical environments such as classrooms and
outdoor spaces, and how attentive stawere while watchingchildren.
A related factor was the centres sta. Staincluded the sites director and/or owners, the teachers,
and any other personnel parents might encounter regularly. In evaluating a centres sta, caregivers
looked at a variety of attributes but paid particular attention to warmth and receptivity and to tea-
chersbackgrounds. In terms of the warmth and receptivity, Tiani explained, You dont think
about her when you drop o;its not hard. I just want people to treat her like I would, and my
family would .Many caregivers echoed similar sentiments and described how critically important
it was for their children to feel comfortable and to appear happy; when that was the case, parents felt
the provider could be trusted.
In assessing teachers, participants often varied in their views on a given feature. In discussing
teaching credentials, for example, some caregivers valued experience, while others emphasized
degrees and education. The opinions of Fanta and Trina illustrate this point. Fanta shared, I want
a teacher whos seasoned as opposed to maybe someone whos like only been doing it for a
couple years Im old school, experience sometimes can be better.Trina, on the other hand, felt
dierently: I really wanted to see about credentials as far as the teachers, their education. Were
they at least in school for early childhood education?These divergent opinions speak to the subjec-
tive nature of evaluations of the same environmental factor.
In terms of activities, caregivers were most interested in how children spent their time and fre-
quently referred to learningand education.What constituted learningor education,however,
also proved subjective. Caregivers, however, were unied in describing what they did not want.
Kim explained, I really wanted a place that was going to be focused on education. I really didnt want
a place that the kids just sat around. They didnt do anything.Many parents spoke about previous
experiences with arrangements that largely left children to their own devices or watching television.
Consequently, they prioritized learning experiences and opportunities. A handful of participants also
looked for learning environments that would not be considered developmentally appropriate prac-
tice. Two participants wanted programmes that gave homework, while two others searched for
environments where children would learn to sit at desks.
Provider availability, accessibility, and aordability
Provider availability, accessibility, and aordability were the most practical, yet constraining inu-
ences. Availability refers to whether or not spots were open at a centre when participants were
looking for care. Unavailability at preferred settings was frequent, particularly for families relying
on subsidies or in need of nancial aid. A number of caregivers had found centres they liked or
felt comfortable with only to be placed on a waiting list when they needed care immediately. Care-
givers frequently criticized the lack of viable alternatives in their neighbourhoods and spoke about
having to settle for ok careor care that worked for now.
Accessibility included a centres location, specically its proximity to a caregivers home or work, its
operating hours and schedule, and whether infant-toddler rooms or after-school programmes were
available for siblings. In terms of location, Centre Oneparticipants were most inclined to look for
child care close to their jobs, while women from Centres Twoand Threemore often looked in
their home neighbourhoods. Extended hours and year-round enrolment factored heavily into the
decisions of the mothers from these centres as well because both oered year-round schedules
and extended hours. While Centre Oneonly covered care for 10 months, extended care and
summer care were available, but at an additional cost, which most families opted for. Despite the
added cost, participants from Centre Oneagain expressed a willingness to make sacrices for
what they perceived to be a strong academic, long-term educational experience. Participants from
Centres Twoand Threewere more likely to be chosen by families with infants and toddlers. At
Centre One,multi-age care was advantageous for the one-third of families with older children
enrolled in the school.
Aordability, specically in terms of the familys weekly out-of-pocket expenses for care, was a
deciding factor in selection. Sanaa shared, Unfortunately, price plays a big part because if its too
expensive for me to aord then thats my biggest deal breaker.Her sentiment was echoed repeat-
edly across interviews. Paying for care was often described in terms of budgetsor sacrices,
especially when, at the end of the month, theresmore bills than money.Like many residents of
low-income neighbourhoods, the majority of caregivers relied on subsidies or had other nancial
aid to help cover the cost of care. The states subsidized care programme was available to low-
income families that qualied. Conversations related to this system were wrought with frustration,
and securing subsidies was often described as overwhelming and dicult. The majority of caregivers
had experienced a disruption in subsidized funding. Participants who relied on subsidized care often
described the system as one that was eager to kick you out.In order to maintain funding, caregivers
who relied on these monies discussed having to be nuts about keeping up to dateor vigilant about
staying on top of it [paperwork].
Previous care experiences
All 40 participants interviewed had changed their child care setting at least once when either the
arrangement no longer met the needs of the child or family or a serious incident had occurred.
When arrangements no longer met the needs of the child or family, changes were prompted by con-
cerns with socialization, structure, or education. Chanel captured many caregiverssentiments saying,
It seemed to me like they were just babysitting my kids. I asked my son every day what they do at
school Hed say watch TV, eat, sleep, play.Many caregivers felt that once children turned a certain
age, typically between two and three years old, they no longer needed to sit in family careand the
change to centre-based care was made. In centre-based care, participants felt that the socialization
opportunities were better, aording children more opportunities to interact with same-age peers.
Caregivers also discussed feeling as though centre-based care had a higher educational value com-
pared to family care.
Previous care experiences that ended in serious incidents were unfortunately frequent. Incidents
were related to safety, supervision, loss of trust, or illegal activities. Anessa, for example, recounted
the events of a day when her daughter became trapped in a collapsed building while in care. Lisa
picked up her daughter one afternoon and noticed a hickey on her face. Other instances prompting
immediate changes included when Zedra saw that a family care provider had tied a string around her
daughters neck to secure her binky;when Tasha saw a provider board a public transit bus with her
four-month old child; when Missy had a months work of tuition stolen by a pop-upcentre; when
Missys next centre had a revolving back door where people exchanged cash for drugs; when Kadi-
jahs son reported he had been physically assaulted by centre stawith the marks to prove it; when
Jacqui sent her son to a centre where the teachers stole the diapers she provided; when Tanya
repeatedly picked her daughter up in the same diaper she had been wearing at drop oeight
hours earlier; and when a provider violently grabbed Trinitys son out of her hands and refused to
let him go until she paid her ve dollars. The nature and number of such experiences speaks to
larger questions about the regulation of child care in the metropolitan region where data for the
study were collected. Importantly, however, all participants who removed children from care
because of serious incidents described how those experiences shaped their search moving forward.
The insignicance of quality ratings
A follow-up to the question about aspects of care they factored into their decisions asked participants
whether centresratings, specically the states QRIS rating, carried any weight during the search
process. Responses to this question revealed that for the majority of the studys participants, the
state-designated QRIS system had no bearing on the search. As Rita explained, I didnt really see
any ratings It wouldnt have mattered if I did I hadnt heard anything [bad] from a parent or
from a teacher that would stop me from wanting them to come here.For caregivers who did con-
sider a sites rating, state-designated indicators of quality were largely described as secondary to their
own assessment of t. Caregivers often spoke of positive ratings as a bonus.No caregiver indicated
that ratings constituted a deciding factor in the process.
The ndings of this study suggest that the search for child care in low-income, urban neighbour-
hoods can be daunting for the caregivers of African American preschool-age children. While the
study was conducted in one metropolitan region amongst a relatively specic population, its
ndings are consistent with previous work done in other regions with similarly situated populations.
This work underscores the need for both greater access to high-quality child care and increases in
family- and neighbourhood-level supports throughout the process.
On the search process
In line with previous ndings, participants in this study crucially relied on personal networks for child
care referrals (Forry et al., 2013; Iruka & Carver, 2006; Pungello & Kurtz-Costes, 1999). Almost unani-
mously, caregivers relayed beginning the search for their current child care centre by asking
trusted sources for the names of potential providers. As Webers conceptual model posited and
follow-up research has supported, social networks play key roles within community contexts in
which care is chosen (Chaudry et al., 2011; Weber, 2011). For 39 of this studys participants, arrange-
ments not referred by someone in their personal network were not considered.
10 K. K. MORAN
The second step in the search process included a visit to potential centres. In describing this stage
of the process, caregivers spoke about conducting site assessments. For the majority of participants,
these assessments trumped quality ratings provided by the state, which largely had no bearing on
selection. This group of participants either did not trust ratings or did not feel they warranted
more weight than their own assessments. A smaller subset of participants indicated they were not
aware a rating system existed, a phenomenon also observed in prior research (Chaudry et al.,
2011; Starr et al., 2012; Tout et al., 2010). There was even an indication that the rating systems
scale was misinterpreted, eectively reversed, by at least one parent. Such evidence suggests the
need for more resourcing at the neighbourhood level and for work to rebuild trust in the system.
Factors most inuential in the selection of care
As conversations turned to the aspects of care most important in the decision-making process, care-
givers related that they looked for arrangements where children would be physically safe, stacould
be trusted, and children would be engaged in learning activities. The bar for participants in this study,
however, appeared to be relatively low. Health and safety have been found to be more important
than other features of care for low-income families and for African American mothers specically
(Shlay, 2010). For the participants in this study, childrens safety was the highest priority, likely due
to the number and nature of serious incidents experienced. Trusting providers was also a priority.
Trust has long been a preeminent criterion in the selection of care, especially for low-income families
reliant on subsidies (Mensing, French, Fuller, & Kagan, 2000; Weber & Grobe, 2011).
Assessments of activities that support childrens development proved subjective. A review of the
literature supports the nding that caregiversspecic expectations for learning activities and oppor-
tunities tend to vary (Forry et al., 2013). Despite such evidence, this study is unique in just how low the
bar for quality appeared to be when evaluating learning activities. Caregivers frequently framed evi-
dence of any kind of daily activity positively, having experienced arrangements where children had
watched TVor did nothingall day. On a related note, because studies have suggested that low-
income parents are more likely to prioritize learning and school-like activities, caregivers looking
for features of care that would be considered developmentally inappropriate, like children sitting
at desks and or completing homework, is consistent with prior research ndings (Van Horn,
Ramey, Mulvihill, & Newell, 2001).
The decision-making process often boiled down to the availability, accessibility, and aordability
of care. Studies have shown that these considerations often serve as constraints or barriers for low-
income families and are determining factors in the selection of care. Accessibility and aordability in
particular frequently prevent parents from selecting settings they may have otherwise preferred
(Chaudry et al., 2011; Weber, 2011). Additionally, conversations about accessing and maintaining sub-
sidies revealed frustrations. Many caregivers reported having been dropped by a subsidy programme
at least once and most had been dropped multiple times. Getting dropped meant a pause in care,
and, in some cases, caregivers lost their spots in settings they otherwise liked. A growing body of
research has begun to look at how forced transitions, like subsidy disruptions, leads to child care
instability (Speirs, Vesely, & Roy, 2015). Local level factors appear to play a signicant role in
subsidy continuity or, conversely, discontinuity. When families experience breaks in subsidy
receipt, children have been found to experience more total changes in subsidized providers
(Pilarz, Claessens, & Gelatt, 2016).
Prior research supports our nding that all caregivers reported having previous experiences with
other child care providers (Chaudry et al., 2011; Morrissey, 2008). Low-income parents have been
found to leave infant and toddler-age children with family members, only seeking settings with socia-
lization opportunities when children are of preschool age (Chaudry et al., 2011; Van Horn et al., 2001).
In this study, participants sought centre-based care when children were between two and three years
old. In total, caregivers had placed children in two to seven prior arrangements. Transitions out of
those settings were attributed to dissatisfaction with care or serious incidents. Research has
previously found that low-income parents and parents of children who have disabilities are generally
less satised with their child care due to heightened concerns about childrens development and
safety (Wall, Kisker, Peterson, Carta, & Jeon, 2006). There remains, however, a lack of clarity around
how and under what circumstances low-income caregivers make changes to their child care
This qualitative interview-based study explored caregiversexperiences with the child care search and
decision-making processes in low-income, urban neighbourhoods. Data for the study were collected
through interviews with 40 women who shared their experiences searching for care for their African
American preschool-age children. The studysndings are consistent with previous work on similarly
situated populations in other regions and sheds further light on the complex and challenging nature
of urban child care systems. This work underscores the need for greater access to high-quality child
care and for increased family and neighbourhood-level supports for caregivers searching for child
This study entails some limitations. First, as the context of child care is complex and can vary at the
neighbourhood level, the studysndings cannot be said to be representative of all metropolitan
regions. In addition, the experiences and feelings of participants involved in the study may not
reect the experiences of all populations who have searched for child care in low-income, urban com-
munities. The sample also included a population of women who had enrolled their children in one of
three child care centres, which may have contributed to selection bias.
Second, the study relied on participantsmemory. The studys interview protocol asked partici-
pants to describe their experiences searching for and selecting child care in the past. Thus, partici-
pants may have omitted or misremembered details due to the passage of time.
The landscape of care for preschool-age children admittedly varies from state to state and region to
region. Yet, like many metropolitan regions across the United States, the city where data for this study
were collected does not oer universally available early child care and does not require that children
experience early childhood education. Consequently, caregivers are charged with nding, evaluating,
securing, and paying for any kind of early care or early education. When families have limited nancial
resources, as was the case with participants in this study, securing care for young children is a chal-
lenging and complex process.
As calls for universal early care continue, the results of this study suggest the need for increased
access to aordable or publicly funded high-quality care. In this study, a population of children who
have been shown to benet from high-quality care (Barnett, 2011; Barnett et al., 2013; Gormley et al.,
2008; McCormick et al., 2006; Puma et al., 2012; Ramey & Stokes, 2009; Wong et al., 2008), appeared to
have spent time in care of little or no quality, the consequences of which can include cognitive and
social skill challenges and increases in behavioural problems likely to last into middle childhood
(Lamb & Ahnert, 2006; NICHD Early Childcare Research Network, 2003,2006). Absent a more compre-
hensive system where high-quality care is available, accessible, and aordable, children from similar
backgrounds will continue to be subjected to substandard care.
Given the childrens time in care of little or no quality, more immediate reforms may be necess-
ary. The number and nature of serious incidents was particularly alarming. Requiring all licensed
providers to participate in the states QRIS system could lead to declines in serious incidents,
improving the overall quality of care options. Further, as the number of caregivers who
12 K. K. MORAN
experienced subsidy disruptions due to clerical errors was high, the local subsidy system may
benet from revamping.
Finally, as mothers and caregivers of young children are likely to continue tapping into their per-
sonal networks when they search for child care, and are always likely to rely on their maternal
instincts, additional resources or supports within familiescommunities could prove benecial.
Support services might include neighbourhood-level early childhood representatives or oces avail-
able to answer questions, provide suggestions, distribute checklists detailing what parents should
look out for when evaluating care, or organize community-based mothers groups or mom-to-
mom mentoring programmes.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Note on contributor
Dr. Kaitlin Moran is an assistant professor who holds a doctorate in Urban Education. She began her career in early child-
hood education teaching Pre-K, Head Start, and Kindergarten in urban settings. She has over 10 years of experience
working in early childhood education as an educator, literacy coach, and research specialist focusing on early childhood
programme evaluation and parental involvement. Currently, Dr. Moran teaches courses on child development, early
childhood education, and literacy. Her research focuses on the accessibility and equitable distribution of high-quality
early childhood education in high-poverty urban neighbourhoods.
Kaitlin K. Moran
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... In addition, many grandparents-a key source of child care among many families-died of COVID-19 within the first two years of the pandemic (Hillis et al., 2021). Combining low availability with the high cost of child care for the FIGURE 2. The prevalence of specific negative social determinants of health (SDH) among caregivers (A), the prevalence of the number of negative SDH per caregiver (B), the prevalence of each negative SDH in isolation given the presence of the negative SDH (C), and the average number of co-occurring negative SDH associated with each specific SDH (D) average family, affordable access to quality child care has been limited across the United States, particularly within low-income urban communities similar to the one presently investigated (Moran, 2021). When caregivers cannot access needed child care, they often adjust to supervising or providing at-home education, which may lead to inadequate supervision (Lee et al., 2021b). ...
Objectives This exploratory study sought to identify specific social determinants of health (SDH) patterns associated with severe pediatric injuries during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods We used cross-sectional observational data from children (0-18 years) admitted to a Level 1 urban pediatric trauma center between March 26 and November 14, 2021 (n=360). We used association rule mining (ARM) to explore SDH patterns associated with severe injury. We then used ARM-identified SDH patterns as the primary exposures in multivariable logistic regressions of severe injury, controlling for patient and caregiver demographics. Finally, we compared results to naïve hierarchical logistic regressions that considered single SDH types as primary exposures rather than SDH patterns. Results We identified three SDH patterns associated with severe injury using ARM: 1) having child care needs in combination with neighborhood violence; 2) caregiver lacking health insurance; and 3) caregiver lacking social support. In the ARM-informed logistic regression models, the presence of a child care need in combination with neighborhood violence was associated with an increased odds of severe injury (aOR: 2.77; 95% CI: 1.01, 7.62), as was caregiver lacking health insurance (aOR: 2.29; 95% CI: 1.02, 5.16). In the naïve hierarchical logistic regressions, no SDH type in isolation was associated with severe injury. Conclusions Our exploratory analyses suggest that considering the co-occurrence of negative SDH that families experience rather than isolated SDH may provide greater insights into prevention strategies for severe pediatric injury.
... In home-care settings, the provider may be registered, or have a license or certification, though many do not. The variability of requirements for ECPs in this state, and in many places in the country, has created a system with many complexities (Moran, 2019). ...
Full-text available
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This chapter explores the experiences of skilled Mexican women who provide childcare in private homes in the United States of America (USA) through a program called Au Pair. These experiences illustrate how the neoliberal migration industry focuses on migrant domestic workers to reduce costs, therefore, expanding the gender gap in the care labor market. The Au Pair program focuses on cultural exchange with participants holding J-1 Visas for the USA. Contemporary migration regimes have enhanced the value of skills and education, which opens up opportunities for mobility. However, mobility does not in itself transfer cultural capital, as becomes evident in this specific Au Pair program, because the agencies present it not as an educational exchange but an affordable childcare option for USA families. Thus, the participants find themselves in a complicated position. They expect to be in a more symmetrical relationship, but instead, they are treated by the families, in most cases, like cheap labor and associated with cultural and gendered stereotypes. I present, from a qualitatively orientated research project, the narratives of skilled Mexican participants in the Au Pair program and explore how they experience for one side a dislocation in terms of class and for the other side, a reaffirmation of traditional gender role as a caregiver. I focus on how labor conditions from the Au Pair program have resulted in a political response, how participants are fighting to improve labor practices, and how some labor rights organizations have offered support. This chapter and the previous one, share a number of contexts, including the participation of women from Mexico and problematic class and gender stereotypes about women in labor markets. Through both chapters, while we explore different angles, we still make a significant contribution to understanding gender and class relationships, in particular, how it is necessary to transform labor markets to close the gender gap.
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In this policy report, NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett dispels four common myths about preschool education, addressing the questions: 1) Does high-quality pre-K have lasting benefits? 2) What is the evidence for the $7 to $1 return on investment for preschool? 3) Do non-disadvantaged children benefit from pre-K, and is a targeted or a universal approach to preschool more effective? 4) Are large-scale public pre-K programs, including Head Start, effective? Dr. Barnett examines the research evidence that supplies answers for all of these questions.
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Brief 22, February 2012 URBAN INSTITUTE Most working families with children in the United States face the constant challenge of arranging child care. An estimated 11.3 million children younger than 5 years old have working mothers, and more than 78 percent are placed in some type of regular, nonparental child care while their parents work (Laughlin 2010). While child care is a critical work support for parents, it is also a key context for young children's development. The well-being of the child and the family as a whole depends on the stability and quality of child care. Disruptions in care can interfere with children's healthy development and parents' employment (Adams and Rohacek 2010; Helburn 1995; Loeb et al. 2003). Research highlights the relationships between children's experiences in nonparental care, their attachment to caregivers, and their developmental outcomes, with low-quality and unstable care arrangements connected to behavioral problems, poor social competence, and cognitive and language deficiencies (see Adams and Rohacek 2010 for a further discus-sion). Further, the stress incurred from lower quality arrangements that fail to meet parents' and children's needs may worsen parents' work performance and their relationships at home (Layzer and Goodson 2006). Because child care is so important, how parents identify and select care arrangements should be of great interest to researchers and policymakers. Many factors influence parental decisions about child care. When weighing their options, most parents take into account the location, cost, quality, and availability or schedule of the provider, their own employment schedules, and the partic-ular circumstances and needs of the family (e.g., home language, child's age, special needs). Parents may also prefer a particular care setting or a par-ticular provider with whom they have a trusting relationship. However, parents' decisions about care are ultimately tied to the options present and known to them. Their choices are made within the constraints of the early care and education context of their community, including the avail-able supply of early care and education programs and providers, parental awareness of child care options, and the accessibility and affordability of such care. Contextual constraints or barriers can force parents into less-than-optimal arrangements. This research brief (and the larger report on which it is based) is a product of a multiyear, qualitative Urban Institute study that examined how low-income families make choices when arranging care for their children, and how families' decisions are shaped or limited by key contextual factors. Child care decisionmaking is particularly challenging for low-income working families. These parents often experience fluctuating work schedules, nontraditional hours, and inflexible work policies that limit their child care options, since few providers are available during the hours when they need care (Henly and Lambert 2005). Low-income families have limited financial resources to purchase high-quality care; 1 in addi-tion, the supply of quality care is generally more limited in low-income communities. Low-income families more frequently rely on public trans-portation, so travel beyond their community to seek additional child care opportunities is often unmanageable. Additionally, some low-income families may not have easy access to reliable sources of information about child care in their community. They often must arrange child care hastily to meet work requirements and rely on personal contacts and social networks to get information rather than more formal sources; this can limit their awareness of the various available opportunities. Of the 9.7 million uninsured parents in the United States, as many as 3.5 million living below the federal poverty level could readily be made eligible for Medicaid under current law.
Given the prevalence of short child care subsidy spells and program churning documented in prior studies, researchers and policymakers have been concerned about the implications of discontinuity in subsidy receipt for the stability of children's care arrangements. Yet little research has studied the stability of subsidized arrangements or how subsidy discontinuity relates to changes in subsidized providers. Using child care subsidy program administrative records from a cohort of children in four diverse sites across Illinois and New York states, this study examines patterns of subsidy use and stability of subsidized care arrangements, as well as the relationship between the two. Results suggest that the length of states' eligibility periods is related to the duration of subsidy spells; however, significant variation in patterns of subsidy use within states suggests that local level factors are also important. Results show that subsidy discontinuity is related to children experiencing more total changes in subsidized providers. Focusing on provider changes across spells, we also find that the timing of subsidy exits, the length of gaps in subsidy receipt, and within spell provider instability are each related to whether or not children re-enter the program with a different subsidized provider after a break in subsidy receipt. We discuss these findings' implications for understanding how new program requirements established in the 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant may matter for subsidy continuity and care stability.
Since 1980, the number of state pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs has more than doubled, with 38 states enrolling more than one million children in 2006 alone. This study evaluates how five state pre-K programs affected children's receptive vocabulary, math, and print awareness skills. Taking advantage of states' strict enrollment policies determined by a child's date of birth, a regression-discontinuity design was used to estimate effects in Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. For receptive vocabulary, only New Jersey and Oklahoma yielded significant standardized impacts, though two of the three other coefficients were in a direction indicating positive effects. For math, all the coefficients were positive but only Michigan and New Jersey yielded reliable results. The largest impacts were for print awareness, where all five coefficients were positive and four were reliable in Michigan, New Jersey, South Carolina, and West Virginia. The five states were not randomly selected and, on average, have higher quality program standards than non-studied states, precluding formal extrapolation to the nation at large. However, our sample of states differed in many other ways, permitting the conclusion that state pre-K programs can have positive effects on children's cognitive skills, though the magnitude of these effects varies by state and outcome. © 2008 the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.
Technical Report
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-­‐Americans (WHIEEAA) has a mandate on behalf of African-­‐American students to close the achievement gap. This goal requires attention to the full education continuum, from the early childhood years through adulthood. Learning begins at birth and the preparation for learning starts well before birth. To solve the employment and education crises facing black children 1 and America we must first ensure that all children have access to high-­‐quality early education. 1 Not only must we work towards providing African-­‐American students with access to high-­‐quality early education , we must also make a concerted effort to provide support for them inside and outside the classroom , extending through college completion and career entry. The first step to ensuring that African-­‐American students grow up to become successful and healthy adults is to give them access to high-­‐quality early education. To accomplish this , the WHIEEAA is working to ensure that all African-­‐American children have a quality early start. We are honored to work with the National Institute for Early Education Research to ensure that all African-­‐American students have access to high-­‐quality early learning opportunities 2 starting at birth .
Recent research has drawn attention to the deleterious effects of instability on child development. In particular, child care instability may make it hard for children to form secure attachments to their care providers which may have a negative impact on their development and school readiness. These effects seem to be heightened for low-income children and families. However, there remains a lack of clarity regarding how and why low-income mothers make changes to their child care arrangements. Using ethnographic data from Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three City Study, this study explored 36 low-income mothers' experiences of child care instability and stability and the factors that promoted each. We identified four kinds of child care transitions: planned, averted, failed, and forced. Financial resources, transportation and the availability of care during the hours that mothers work were important for helping mothers find and maintain preferred care arrangements. Our findings have implications for research on child care instability as well as the development of policy and programs to help low-income families secure high quality child care and maintain stable employment.
Background/Context There is much current interest in the impact of early childhood education programs on preschoolers and, in particular, on the magnitude of cognitive and affective gains. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study Because this new segment of public education may require substantial resources, accurate descriptions are required of the potential benefits and costs of implementing specific preschool programs. To address this issue comprehensively, a meta-analysis was conducted for the purpose of synthesizing the outcomes of comparative studies in this area. Population/Participants/Subjects A total of 123 comparative studies of early childhood interventions were analyzed. Each study provided a number of contrasts, where a contrast is defined as the comparison of an intervention group of children with an alternative intervention or no intervention group. Intervention/Program/Practice A prevalent pedagogical approach in these studies was direct instruction, but inquiry-based pedagogical approaches also occurred in some interventions. No assumption was made that nominally similar interventions were equivalent. Research Design The meta-analytic database included both quasi-experimental and randomized studies. A coding strategy was developed to record information for computing study effects, study design, sample characteristics, and program characteristics. Findings/Results Consistent with the accrued research base on the effects of preschool education, significant effects were found in this study for children who attend a preschool program prior to entering kindergarten. Although the largest effect sizes were observed for cognitive outcomes, a preschool education was also found to impact children's social skills and school progress. Specific aspects of the treatments that positively correlated with gains included teacher-directed instruction and small-group instruction, but provision of additional services tended to be associated with negative gains. Conclusions/Recommendations Given the current state of research on the efficacy of early childhood interventions, there is both good and bad news. The good news is that a host of original and synthetic studies have found positive effects for a range of outcomes, and this pattern is clearest for outcomes relating to cognitive development. Moreover, many promising variables for program design have been identified and linked to outcomes, though little more can be said of the link than that it is positive. The bad news is that there is much less empirical information in the studies examined available for designing interventions at multiple levels with multiple components.
Child care subsidies help low-income families pay for child care while parents work or study. Few studies have examined the effects of child care subsidy use on child development, and no studies have done so controlling for prior cognitive skills. We use rich, longitudinal data from the ECLS-B data set to estimate the relationship between child care subsidy use and school readiness, using value-added regression models as well as parametric and non-parametric models with propensity score matching. Compared to a diverse group of subsidy non-recipients in various types of non-parental care as well as parental care only, we find that child care subsidy use during preschool is negatively associated with children's math skills at kindergarten entry. However, sensitivity analysis suggests that these findings could be easily overturned if unobserved factors affect selection into subsidy receipt.
Over the last few years, the future of Minnesota's economy has been called into question. The resulting debate illustrates how little is understood about the fundamentals that underlie economic development. While many recognize the success of the Minnesota economy in the past, they see a weakening in the foundations of that success. Some point to the decline in corporate headquarters located in Minnesota. Some point to the lack of funding for new startup companies, particularly in the areas of high-tech and biotech. Some point to the possible loss of professional sports teams. Some think the University of Minnesota is not visible enough in the business community. And still others raise the broader concern that Minnesota's citizens and policymakers have become too complacent and unwilling to make the public commitment to be competitive in a global economy. Those who raise these concerns conclude that Minnesota and local governments need to take a more active role in promoting our economy. Often that implies that the state or local governments subsidize private activities that the market is not funding. Proponents of this view argue that without such subsidies, either well-deserving businesses will not get funded or other states will lure our businesses to greener pastures. State and local subsidies to private businesses are not new. In the name of economic development and creating new jobs, Minnesota, and virtually every other state in the union, has a long history of subsidizing private businesses. We have argued in previous studies that the case for these subsidies is short-sighted and fundamentally flawed.1 From a national perspective, jobs are not created—they are only relocated. From a state and local perspective, the economic gains are suspect because many would have been realized without the subsidies. In summary, what often passes for economic development and sound public investment is neither. If subsidizing private businesses is the wrong way to promote Minnesota's economy, then what is the right way? To answer this question, we need to understand that unfettered markets generally allocate scarce resources to their most productive use. Consequently, governments should only intervene in markets when they fail. Market failures can occur for a variety of reasons; two well-documented failures are goods that have external effects or public attributes. Unfettered markets will generally produce the wrong amount of such goods. Education has long been recognized as a good that has external effects and public attributes. Without public support, the market will yield too few educated workers and too little basic research. This problem has long been understood in the United States and it is why our government, at all levels, has supported public funding for education. (According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, the United States in 1999 ranked high on public funding of higher education. 2 ) Nevertheless, recent studies suggest that one critical form of education, early childhood development, or ECD, is grossly underfunded. However, if properly funded and managed, investment in ECD yields an extraordinary return, far exceeding the return on most investments, private or public.