Background/Purpose: The number of families raising a young child with an identified disability has increased substantially in recent decades. These vulnerable families face greater constraints in balancing employment and caregiving, yet research has not assessed whether current policies succeed in supporting parental labor market participation. Finding appropriate non-parental care for children with disabilities is challenging and often costly. Young children with disabilities may need more highly-trained caregivers and other accommodations, which are unavailable in many care arrangements. Yet, access to appropriate care is a crucial support for parental employment—and financial stability—and may also confer developmental benefits; additionally, equal access is a fundamental right and an important social justice issue. Currently, there is little evidence about whether these families can access appropriate care, and how this impacts parental employment. Specifically, whether the current set of policies—IDEA, child care subsidies, and Head Start—are meeting families’ needs and supporting access to early education and care is not clear. This study seeks to understand: (1) whether parents of young children with disabilities are accessing child care; (2) and the role of the current set of child care policies for young children with disabilities in supporting parental employment.
Data/Method: We use data from the Department of Education’s nationally-representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey- Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). The ECLS-B has a large sample of children with disabilities and provides detailed information about: (1) disability status; (2) child care arrangements; (3) parental employment, and (4) IDEA and other service use. We conduct descriptive analyses of child care use for children with and without disabilities, including bivariate, OLS, and logistic regression analyses. To answer whether current policies have been effective in supporting access to care and supporting employment, we use a difference-in-difference model comparing parental employment rates of children with and without disabilities, before- and after- kindergarten enrollment.
Results: We expected to find a larger effect on employment for parents of children with disabilities at kindergarten enrollment, reflecting the inadequacy of current policies in supporting access to child care. However, results suggest a greater effect on maternal employment at age 4, with an 8 percentage point increase in the unadjusted employment rate for mothers of children with disabilities compared to 4 for mothers of typically-developing children and essentially no difference at kindergarten enrollment (~3 percentage point increase for both). We also find a drop in part-time employment at age 4, with an increase at kindergarten enrollment.
Conclusions/Implications: Findings may be indicative of the supportive nature of current programs and policies for preschool inclusion for young children with disabilities but may also suggest a lack of adequate supports upon kindergarten enrollment. Overall, this study can inform social workers about the extent to which the current menu of federal policies are adequately supporting families with young children with disabilities in their quest to balance employment and caregiving. In doing so, we aim to offer evidence for social work practitioners at all levels of practice—micro, mezzo, macro—to advocate for this group of vulnerable children and families.