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Posts By Heather Sandstrom
Heather Sandstrom, Ph.D. is a research associate in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. Her research focuses on early childhood education and development, school readiness, child care quality, the home learning environment, and programs and policies affecting low-income children and families, such as child care subsidies, Head Start, and home visiting. Prior to joining the Urban Institute, Dr. Sandstrom worked as an independent early childhood research consultant, serving organizations and institutions around the District of Columbia Metro Area, including Child Trends, the Institute for Learning Innovation, the Maryland State Department of Education, and the University of Maryland. In 2009, Dr. Sandstrom was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant from the Institute of International Education to study the characteristics and quality of a publicly funded universal preschool program in Seville, Spain. Dr. Sandstrom is Co-Principal Investigator for Determinants of Subsidy Stability and Continuity of Child Care in Illinois and New York, a Child Care Research Partnership Project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. She is also leading the design and implementation of a family and child survey for an evaluation of Best Start Los Angeles, a home visiting and community enhancement program serving primarily Latina mothers and their infants in several low-income Los Angeles communities. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of Maryland, College Park.Links:
| Posted: August 31st, 2012
The final blog in this week's four-part MetroTrends series about the struggle to locate, access, and afford high-quality child care. Don't miss previous blogs that introduce the child care project, describe the challenges to understanding child care options, and the difficulty securing a spot amid a child care shortage.
“It’s sad that you’ve gotta choose your day care by a place that you can afford.” – Grace, a white mother living in Seattle
A clean and inviting room full of toys and materials. A highly trained teacher with skills, experience, and that “special something” that makes children love her. A warm and caring individual who you can approach for advice about your child. These are things you’d hope parents would say as they describe why they chose their child care provider. Instead, most working parents, like the ones we interviewed in our study, select their child care primarily because of location and cost.
It’s possible that the closest and most affordable services provide good quality care. But when parents options are constrained to those close to home or work (or on a nearby bus line) and that they can afford, we must question if they are really buying (and providing their children with) the best care for their needs.
Child care is one of the top household expenses along with housing and food. The average poor family pays 20 percent of its annual income on child care,and the costs can be double or more for families with multiple young children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So why work and spend your paycheck on child care when you can stay home and care for your own children? If you talk to almost any working mother—low-income or not—she will tell you that, at some point, she considered not working because the money she earns goes directly to child care. This obviously isn’t good for employers and it’s not ideal for mothers who desire to work and contribute to their families and to society.
Not all low-income families meet the strict eligibility criteria for child care subsidies or government-subsidized programs like Head Start, so many have a hard time finding care they can actually afford. Plus, those subsidized programs are capped, not entitlement, benefits, so in some states or localities, even eligible families can’t get access.
Parents are alarmed when they discover that some programs are free but they can’t access them (because of waiting lists or ineligibility) and other providers cost $80 to $400 a week per child.
How do we improve families’ access to affordable care options? We need to increase our investment in subsidized early care and education programs. This means expanding Head Start and Early Head Start programs, increasing spending for the Child Care and Development Fund to guarantee child care subsidies for all eligible families, and raising the income eligibility level for subsidized programs to allow more near-poor families to enroll. Integrating early childhood resources and streamlining enrollment across programs will also facilitate access. This is not an easy task and will require support at the federal, state, and local levels, but parents’ employment stability and children’s well-being depends on it.
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Lindsay Giesen Heather Sandstrom
| Posted: August 27th, 2012
The first in this week's four-part MetroTrends series about the struggle to locate, access, and afford high-quality child care. Still to come: describing the challenges to understanding child care options, the shortage of quality care, and making child care affordable and accessible
With back-to-school season quickly approaching, working parents across the United States are doing the annual scramble to secure child care. Just two months ago they went through the same struggle to find child care for the summer. For most parents, securing quality child care is not just a seasonal issue but rather a year-round struggle. These tough decisions are even more challenging for low-income working families. Low-income parents often experience fluctuating work schedules, nontraditional hours, inflexible work policies that limit their child care options, and more limited financial resources to purchase high-quality care. In addition, the supply of quality care is generally more limited in low-income communities. Low-income parents’ decisions about care are ultimately tied to the available supply of programs and providers, parental awareness of child care options, and the accessibility and affordability of such care.
But why focus on child care as a key work support for families? Because disruptions in care can interfere with children’s healthy development and parents’ employment. Further, the stress incurred from lower-quality and unreliable arrangements that fail to meet parents’ and children’s needs may worsen parents’ work performance and their relationships at home.
In this four-part MetroTrends series, we will draw from a multiyear Urban Institute study of low-income families in Providence, Rhode Island, and Seattle-White Center, Washington, and examine what we learned about three key contextual constraints on parents’ child care choices—parental awareness, the available supply, and accessibility and affordability. We will also recommend policy and programmatic solutions to increase accessibility to, and awareness of, this key work support for families.
Stay tuned - tomorrow: the difficulty of finding child care resources
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