Poster Paper: Unpacking Child Care Center Selection in Low-Income Families

Saturday, November 9, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Heather J. Bachman1, Amirah Saafir2, Sabrina Crews3 and Kalani Palmer1, (1)University of Pittsburgh, (2)University of California, Los Angeles, (3)Vanderbilt University
Selection and endogeneity biases are pervasive in studies of developmental contexts and are often statistically controlled rather than studied (Duncan, Magnuson, & Ludwig, 2004; NICHD ECCRN & Duncan, 2003). The present mixed methods study endeavors to unpack the community, parent, and child characteristics that may influence parental selection of center-based care, with particular focus on low-income families’ communities and child care decisions.

A small body of research has emerged to better understand the factors weighed by parents as they select nonmaternal care arrangements for their preschool-aged children. This research has become increasingly policy-relevant as the child care market diversifies and provides parents with greater options (e.g., full-time Head Start programs, private center-based care, publicly funded Pre-K). Typically, researchers have sought to predict which groups of families prefer which type of care arrangements. For example, parents are more likely to select center-based care if they have high educational attainment, are employed for longer hours, earn higher wages, and have larger family sizes (Hirschberg, Huang, & Fuller, 2005). It remains unclear how parents select a particular center after they have chosen center-based care as their primary care arrangement. The current proposal will analyze quantitative survey data and qualitative interviews to identify the community and family factors most salient to parents’ decision making about center-based care arrangements.

To assess the research aim, questionnaire and semi-structured interview data from the Pitt School Readiness Study (PSRS) were analyzed. A total of three cohorts of 4-5 year-old children and their parents were recruited from 30 child care centers in primarily low-income communities from fall 2007 to spring 2010, resulting in a combined sample 289 families (60% African American; 22% White; 22% had a bachelor’s degree or higher; 33% of mothers were married; household income-to-needs =1.75). These data contain parents’ reports on the Emlen (1999) scale, which is widely used to assess selection characteristics, such as affordability, flexibility, quality, and convenience. Parents also reported on a number of factors that may predict center selection, including demographic characteristics, parent-child relationship quality, parent mental health, and children’s health and behavior problems. After children transitioned to kindergarten, 1-hour semi-structured interviews were conducted with a subset of 41 parents (26 African American; 15 White) about their preschool and elementary school selection.

Regression analyses revealed that a wide range of factors predicted the Emlen subscales, including income, family size, maternal education, maternal depression, children’s social skills and health, and parenting practices. However, numerous selection factors emerged from the coding of the qualitative data that are not currently represented in the Emlen scale, such as friend/family referrals, academic emphasis of the center, and neighborhood safety. Further analyses will include hierarchical linear modeling to predict parents’ Emlen scale responses from community characteristics (e.g., child care usage, income, employment, and crime) using Census 2000 data. In addition, further qualitative analysis will compare responses across parent race/ethnicity and maternal education. The present study offers insight into the community and family factors considered by low-income parents as they navigate their increasing options in the child care market.