Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16956 Parental Child Care Decision-Making In Economically Disadvantaged Contexts: Diverse Pathways Into Care

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:30 PM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Julia R. Henly, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Alejandra Ros, MA, PhD Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Sara F. Rolen, Masters Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: The process of finding childcare is complex. Parental preferences meet informational asymmetries and constraints imposed by market, work, and family contexts. Individual choice, network, and heuristics models all identify constraints, information, and preferences as factors in decision-making; yet their treatment of these three pillars of decisions are unique. The individual choice model has been successful at identifying factors associated with different care types, however less successful at explaining the decision-making process. Chaudry, Henly, & Meyers (2010) argue that an integrated model that applies key assumptions from each model may inform understanding about the search process for families in differing circumstances. This paper reviews claims underlying each model, and then examines how pathways into care may be informed by each model. Two research questions guide the analysis: 1) What are the different pathways into care and 2) do these pathways conform to claims from individual choice, network, and heuristic models?

Methods: A purposive sample of 54 mothers in low-level retail occupations each completed 1.5-4 hour interviews. The sample is diverse racially/ethnically (one-fifth Latino, one-fifth Caucasian, and 60% African-American), by household type (1/3 married, 1/3 single, 1/3 extended), and 90% have a child under 5. The interview schedule provided a systematic set of questions, but interviewers had flexibility with question order and probing. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Coding included iterative textual analysis of a priori and emergent themes with attention to preferences, information, and enabling and constraining factors related to child care decisions. Cross-case analyses of questions related to childcare searches were conducted, unit-by-topic matrices constructed, and tentative findings from matrix-based analyses compared back to full transcripts (Ryan and Bernard, 2000).

Results: Results reveal three primary pathways into care: “it's what we do”, “it wasn't my decision”, and “more-or-less active searching.” The first two categories reflect participants who do not conduct a search at all. Rather, in the first case, family norms compelled the arrangement. Consistent with a heuristics model, participants described a tacitly understood agreement that someone (usually mother, always family) would provide care. In the second case, the decision was not in the control of the participant, but rather her mother or child's father. This pathway illustrates the social control pressures that network members can exert on decisions. The third category included individuals who describe some active search, although under considerable constraints and with different degrees of agency and resources. Most in this group had abbreviated searches, accepting the first or second alternative. Short searches reflected the notion of “satisficing,” as described by a heuristics framework and also illustrated constrained information, primarily from networks. Several active searches were unsuccessful, and participants reported ultimately “falling into care”, that is, using an arrangement that presented itself serendipitously.

Conclusions: Pathways are diverse, and shaped by norms, networks, context, and preferences. Findings suggest that policies that emphasize individual choice (e.g., vouchers) might be more effective when coupled with policies designed to reduce constraints and increase supply. Moreover, capitalizing on networks as information channels would help spread knowledge about available care alternatives.

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