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Relocating for Child Care an Unfortunate Reality for Many Working Families

Formal child care: Care provided by a center or family child care home.
Informal child care: Care provided by relatives, parents with alternating work schedules, a non-live-in nanny, or other friends and neighbors.

Moving is stressful and expensive.  It often comes with the challenges of securing a new job, finding a new home, and getting involved in a new community. Given the obvious downsides of moving, BPC finds that 25% of working parents with young children who depend on relatives for child care are either relocating closer to family or having family move closer to them to assist with child care.

In the last three years, BPC conducted 10 surveys of parents to understand the complexities of parent choice and considerations when choosing child care. We learned that safety, cleanliness, and, most importantly, trust, are the key factors parents consider when choosing a child care provider. The fact that so many families are willing to move so that a trusted family member can care for their children is significant.

Why does this matter?

There is a shortage of child care providers in this country. BPC’s analysis of the supply of care available versus the potential need for care, or the “child care gap,” shows that 32% of young children with both parents in the workforce do not have access to a formal child care space. But how much of that gap is actually unmet demand?  Are parents not using the formal child care system because it is not available, or for reasons we don’t yet fully understand?

Not all parents want to enroll their children in a child care center or family child care home. In fact, 57% of parents who use informal care would continue to do so, even if a formal child care option was free and conveniently located. This means that, while there are parents who would prefer a formal care arrangement if it were available, there are some who will never enroll in formal care.

It’s possible that the 25% of working parents who either moved or had relatives move for an informal care arrangement are likely part of the community of parents who wouldn’t use formal child care even if it was free and conveniently located. This motivation provides valuable insights into how much of the child care gap is actual unmet demand and the complexities involved in developing a system parents trust.

Effective policy must be grounded in parent preferences.

There is still more work to be done to understand parents’ child care preferences, especially at the state and local level. These decisions have implications for children, families, and local economies. Our surveys show that child care has an impact on parents’ significant life choices, including how much (or if) parents work, where they live, and how many children they have.

Policymakers and advocates from across the country are working to address the child care shortage; however, expanding child care supply without understanding parent preferences will not be effective. Before proposing legislation, policymakers should ensure they understand two key components of parent preference:

  • How many will actually use care if it is available?
  • What kind of care do parents actually prefer?

While we can do national surveys to help understand what parents want and need, the real work needs to be done by states and local communities.  Many factors contribute to parent decisions.  These include trust, cultural influence, the type and availability of work, availability of child care and the hours of operation and more. To build a child care system that works, talking to, surveying and understanding the needs of parents is the first step.

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