Methods: This study uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (FFCWS), a nationally representative sample of non-marital births in large US cities. Data from the baseline (at the focal child's birth), one-year, and three-year mothers' surveys and the three-year in-home observation were used. The sample was limited to children in non-parental care at the three-year wave (N=1453). Children's behavior was assessed using the well-validated Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Child care instability was measured as the total number of provider changes by the three-year wave (mean=1.11; SD=1.63), and multiplicity was measured as experiencing two or more providers at the three-year wave (14% had multiple providers). Multivariate OLS regression was used to examine the main and interactive effects of child care instability and multiplicity on externalizing and internalizing behavior problems at 36 months of age, controlling for child's age and gender, maternal employment and education, poverty, maternal depression, family structure, child care type, and other baseline characteristics.
Results: Multiplicity in child care providers was associated with an increase in both externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, controlling for instability in providers and selection factors. Instability in child care providers was also associated with an increase in externalizing behavior problems, controlling for multiplicity and selection factors, but it did not significantly predict internalizing behaviors. Interactions between instability and multiplicity did not reach statistical significance. Future analyses will examine the possibility of threshold effects in the number of child care provider changes on behavior problems, as well as the possible moderating effects of child gender, maternal stress, and family income.
Implications: This study provides evidence that instability and multiplicity in child care are associated with negative behavioral outcomes for young children. Given that child care subsidy spells are often short-lived (Meyers et al., 2002), these findings suggest the importance of ensuring that child care subsidy programs promote stability in child care, perhaps through longer re-certification periods and job search grace periods. Policies that aim to increase the supply of providers that can accommodate parents' nonstandard and fluctuating work schedules and reduce their need for multiple providers are also needed.