Methods: We conducted interviews with eight ECE providers and 32 mothers of 42 children ages 0-5 years from two predominantly LatinX neighborhoods in Chicago. The neighborhoods were selected because they are similar demographically, but differ in the density of formal childcare. Half of the mothers were interviewed in Spanish and half in English, based on their language preference. Just over half (55%) had children under the age of 3, while the others had children ages 3-5 years,. Over two-thirds (69%) of the mothers used some childcare arrangement, including center-based care (36%), Pre-K (18%), relative (27%) and non-relative (14%) family childcare providers. Interviews were transcribed, coded and analyzed using a guided, interpretive method, checked for reliability, and respondent-by-code matrices of supply perceptions identified patterns across participants and communities.
Results: Parents interviewed in each community shared strikingly similar perceptions about community-based childcare options. Although one neighborhood had substantially more formal centers and childcare slots, families in both communities appeared to lack vital information regarding the different types of ECE arrangements existent in their communities. Families in both communities also reported similar barriers to enrolling their children in ECE programs, including complex eligibility requirements and waitlists. In addition, parents whose primary language was English or who spoke both English and Spanish with equal proficiency were more likely to have knowledge about existing options than those whose primary language was Spanish.
Most mothers were aware of at least one ECE program in their community, two-thirds were familiar with Head Start, and half were aware of the Child Care Assistance Program. Mothers reported learning about these programs through their social networks, although some also noted seeing specific ECE sites on the street. Few mothers reported learning about childcare arrangements from the internet, program outreach efforts, or professional service providers.
Conclusions and Implications: Among the factors that affect mothers’ perceptions of childcare supply, language and information resources emerged as more important than the actual supply (or density) of formal childcare programs. As sources of ECE information, mothers appear to underutilize trusted service providers in both communities; thus, intentional outreach on the part of health providers, teachers, coaches, ECE providers and other professionals may be effective for disseminating information about child care programs. In addition, simplifying and clarifying eligibility requirements, and disseminating information about childcare subsidies, may help reduce barriers to enrollment.