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Why Parents With Multiple Young Kids opt out of Formal Child Care

For many working parents with young children, choosing a child care arrangement that works for their family is a challenge. A formal child care arrangement might be costly and inaccessible, or not meet their families’ unique needs. Instead, about 1 in 3 working parents in the U.S. with young children are using an informal child care arrangement. This means that when parents need child care, they must rely on relatives, friends, and neighbors or alter their own work schedules so one parent can be home. This May, BPC and Morning Consult conducted a national survey of 1,000 working parents with young children using informal child care to better understand what factors influenced their decision. Our survey found the additional challenges associated with having multiple young children (ages 0-5) consistently impacted parents’ decision to use an informal child care arrangement.

Although there are many factors that influence a parent’s choice of child care, the number of children a family has played a role. Of the parents surveyed with multiple young children, 79% said that having more than one child under 5 influenced their child care arrangement.

Parents cited increased challenges associated with cost, accessibility, and caregiver abilities as reasons why having multiple children influenced their choice of child care.

Cost

When asked what the most influential factor in choosing their current arrangement was, 40% of parents with multiple children referenced cost or money. A family that can afford formal care for one child may not be able to pay those rates for multiple children at once. Some parents explained that the cost of child care for multiple children was a constraining factor in choosing their arrangement:

  • “It is hard to work with both, but we cannot afford two in daycare.”
  • “I am not able to afford daycare for one child much less, multiple children.”
  • “I have a 3 and 4-year-old. I had to drastically reduce my work hours, drop my position at work due to costs of child care for two kids. It wasn’t worth me paying for two kids at daycare, wouldn’t make enough working than it cost.”
  • “The cost of care for two kids is literally more than I make, so any time there is a conflict where we can’t arrange care via family, I have to cut work.”

Accessibility

In addition to affordability, some parents with multiple children cited access as a barrier to using formal child care. It can be difficult to find a provider that has two open slots for their children’s ages at the same time. Rather than waiting for multiple slots to open or using separate providers for their children, some families find it easier to use an informal care arrangement. Parents surveyed explained some of the challenges accessing formal care for multiple children at once:

  • “It is very hard to find places that take two not potty-trained babies.”
  • “They would need to go to the same place and sometimes it is hard to find a pace that will have room for both in my experience.”
  • “It makes things more hectic and harder to find daycare that has two open slots.”

Caregiver Abilities

Although affordability and accessibility can be barriers to accessing formal care for parents with multiple children, informal care arrangements bring their own challenges. Parents expressed concerns for how caring for multiple children would impact their caregivers, especially when that caregiver is a grandparent. When caregivers are providing care for multiple young children at once, the physical and mental toll increases:

  • “Can their grandparents handle more than one little monster at a time.”
  • “The grandparent is obviously getting older so it would be up to him to decide whether he could care for multiple kids.”
  • “I would need to consider if my mother is physically able to care for a future newborn plus my current toddler in order for me to keep working.”

Child Care and the Decision to Have Multiple Children

There is evidence to suggest that finding accessible and affordable child care impacts a parent’s choice to have multiple children. In 2022, BPC and Morning Consult surveyed working mothers and found that 42% of working moms said having access to affordable child care would positively impact their future plans to have children. Of the working moms that had access to child care and benefits, 48% say that it positively impacts their future plans to have children.

The barriers in finding accessible, affordable, and appealing care in formal and informal markets increase as families grow. While it is impossible to pinpoint a single cause of the declining birth rate, these surveys show that constraints in the child care market may be one piece of a complex puzzle.

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