Employed parents providing exceptional care for children with disabilities struggle to meet both work and family responsibilities. Research finds employed caregivers of children with disabilities can experience high levels of stress and diminished health as a result of their exceptional care demands. We use the Continuum of Dependent Care model and Conservation of Resources theory to expand understanding of the influence of type of care demands on health outcomes for employed parents caring for children of typical and exceptional development.
We used data from the 2016 National Study of the Changing Workforce [Families and Work Institute (FWI) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)] of employed parents of children of typical development (n = 642) and those providing exceptional care to children with disabilities (n = 220; N = 862). ANOVA’s, t-tests, chi-squares and correlations were used to assess differences between typical and exceptional care groups on personal (demographic), family, job characteristics, sleep problems and health. Hierarchical linear models then assessed the influence of: (a) demographic and family characteristics (step 1), (b) job characteristics (job flexibility, job autonomy, organizational support, supervisor work-family support, coworker work-family support) (step 2), and (c) moderation effects between type of care demands (typical, exceptional) and job characteristics on employed parents sleep, and physical health.
The main effects model for sleep accounted for 8% of the variance with exceptional care demands (b = .19, p < .001) and organizational support (b =-.17, p <.001) having the highest associations with sleep. The moderated model significantly contributed to the variance in sleep problems (∆F (5, 473) = 2.46; ∆R2 = .02, p <.05). Tests of simple slopes established type of care demands interacted with job flexibility and job autonomy on sleep problems for employed parents with children with exceptional care demands but not for those with typical care demands. The main effects model for health accounted for 9% of the variance in health. Being young (b = .16, p < .01) and having a higher education (b = .16, p < .01) had the highest associations with health. The moderation model was significant (∆F (5, 453) = 2.77; ∆R2 = .03, p<.05). A simple slopes test established coworker support had a positive effect for employed parents of children with exceptional care demands but not for parents of children with typical development.
Conclusions and Implications
Personal, family, and job characteristics affect sleep and physical health of workers with and without exceptional care responsibilities. Moderation analysis provided new insights into the patterning of resources and demands and their effects on sleep and health. This analysis demonstrated that job supports are not experienced equally across the dependent care continuum. Future research needs to take a closer look at these interactive effects to provide more nuanced recommendations on how to best support employees with different care demands in the workplace.