The Impact of Child Care Subsidies on Child Care Problems, Child Care-Related Work Disruptions, and Mothers' Desire to Switch Care

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Forry, Nicole DeSanctis
Hofferth, Sandra L.
Work requirements implemented through welfare reform have led to a focus on moving mothers into employment. As a consequence, the labor force participation rates of single mothers have increased dramatically in the last decade, increasing the importance of child care policies. Although numerous studies have examined the impact of child care subsidies in assisting parents to obtain employment, very few have examined the impact of subsidies on maintaining employment. This study sought to determine whether families with a child care subsidy differed from families without a subsidy on three child care-specific variables assumed to affect a mother's ability to maintain employment: child care problems, child care-related work disruptions, and a desire to switch care arrangements. The mediating roles of child care costs and type of care on the relationships between child care subsidies and these variables were also examined. Data for this study come from two samples of low-income single mothers. The first was a study of 40 mothers in a mid-Atlantic county interviewed before and after receiving a child care subsidy. The second was a subsample of 658 mothers from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study. Data were analyzed via multivariate techniques and path models on both static and dynamic models, including comparing changes by the same parents over time. Receipt of a child care subsidy was found to be a significant predictor of experiencing fewer child care problems and child care-related work disruptions across datasets and using multiple methods. Parents were also less likely to report desiring to switch their care arrangement when they had a child care subsidy compared to when they did not have a subsidy. Finally, the use of formal child care was found to mediate the relationship between child care subsidy status and child care-related work disruptions for parents in one of the samples. Policy and program recommendations for assisting low-income families balance work and family by minimizing experiences with child care-related work disruptions are discussed.