Despite the growth in research on childcare decision-making, there remains limited examination of the childcare decisions of low-income LatinX parents. LatinX parents face many of the same constraints and opportunities as other parents. However, understanding family background, proximal environment, and everyday experiences are important for responding effectively to their childcare needs in a culturally appropriate fashion. For some LatinX families, cultural background, community ties, legal status and family supports may result in differential access to information, public benefits, and informal supports; and disproportionate residence in “childcare deserts” may constrain choice sets (Forry, et al, 2013; Malik, et al, 2016).
With this context in mind, we ask the following exploratory research question: How do low-income LatinX mothers describe the childcare decision-making process and the factors shaping their childcare decisions?
Methods: We conducted 60-minute interviews with 32 LatinX mothers, with children 0-5 years of age, who reside in two predominantly LatinX communities in Chicago. The communities were selected because they varied in childcare program density, but were similar demographically. The purposive sample was diverse in terms of education, employment, household structure, and types of childcare arrangements. Following a semi-structured interview protocol, interviewers asked mothers to discuss childcare decisions and experiences. Using a priori and emergent coding techniques, we developed respondent-by-code matrices of decision factors to identify patterns across participants and communities. Findings were confirmed through co-interpretation meetings with parents.
Results: We found that heterogeneity in mothers’ childcare experiences was related more to variation in information access, children’s age, and family background than to community density of childcare. Childcare decisions were embedded in family decisions (often influenced by grandmothers and partners) such that some mothers stayed home with their children instead of working outside the home, or shared caregiving with a partner because of preferences for maternal care or financial constraints. We also found that logistical factors related to proximity, scheduling, and affordability motivated searches and constrained choices; but quality factors related to trust, child safety, and developmental needs were also important. Mothers described multiple pathways to an arrangement; but for most, searches were short and relied on word-of-mouth and past experiences.
Implications: Factors shaping childcare decisions in this LatinX sample reflect a combination of family circumstances, community characteristics, and preferences. Perhaps more than in other samples, lack of familiarity with nonparental care – often related to language barriers and recency of immigration – and limited access to government supports, contributed to use of informal care or reliance exclusively on parent care. Advocacy for benefit access and direct neighborhood outreach by trusted network members would be important avenues to facilitating home- and center-based childcare opportunities for LatinX families.