The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Neighborhood Effects On Child-Care Decision-Making Among Low-Income Families

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 10:45 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Yoonsook Ha, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Marci Ybarra, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Prior research examining child care arrangements among low-income families have focused primarily on individual-level characteristics and/or policy characteristics, such as the availability of child care subsidies. Parental decisions in care arrangements, however, are also affected by the larger social context in which families operate, particularly where families live. Thus, it follows that a family’s neighborhood will play an important role in the availability and quality of child care and subsequent decision-making among families. This study explores patterns of child care arrangements across neighborhoods with different social and economic resources and the relative importance of family and neighborhood factors in parental decisions in care arrangements.

Methods: We use data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A.FANS) (2001) which is a stratified random sample of families in 65 neighborhoods (census tracts) from Los Angeles County. Data were collected from 3,000 households; we focus on approximately 950 families with children 0 to 5 years old who were not yet enrolled in school, including kindergarten, and whose primary caregivers completed the survey.  Because child care needs and decisions vary by age of the child separate analysis is conducted for younger children (from age 0 to 3) and school-age children (from age 3 to 5). We define four different types of child care: parental care (care only provided by a parent, no other child care arrangements), relative care (care by a relative other than parents), non-relative care (in child or sitter’s home: babysitter, nanny, friend), and center-based care (daycare, preschool, nursery, or HeadStart). We include neighborhood characteristics such as share in poverty, residential stability, share of immigrants, child care centers within neighborhoods, and share of female-headed households as covariates. We also include individual level variables (race, marital status, age, education, employment-related variables, number of children, and public assistance receipt) to estimate the overall effects of neighborhood contexts on child care choices.

Findings: We find that the type of childcare used varies by the age of the child and family income; families who are deeply poor (below 50% of the federal poverty line) and those with very young children are more likely to utilize relative care. Families that reside in poor (between 50 and 100% of the federal poverty line) or near poor neighborhoods (between 101 and 200% of the federal poverty line) are more likely to use center-based care relative to their deeply poor counterparts suggesting that neighborhood context matters in families’ selection of child care arrangements.

Implications: This study improves upon prior research by using a multilevel model approach which recognizes the clustering of families in particular neighborhoods and allows for the estimation of cross-level effects including group effects. This approach allows us to provide evidence on how neighborhoods affect, individually and/or interactively, parental decisions on child care and how those effects differ by children’s age and family income.  We offer new insights into the role neighborhood contexts play, particularly how neighborhood poverty shapes access to and family decisions regarding care which is of great concern to policymakers and practitioners.