Cristina Novoa at the Center for American Progress:
This report examines families’ child care experiences when they have children ages 0 to 5 with disabilities and offers policy solutions that are critical to supporting these families. Although the term “disability” applies to a diverse community of individuals representing a broad array of conditions and experiences, people with disabilities often face similar barriers to full participation in social programs and institutions, including child care. Using quantitative data from two nationally representative surveys—the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP) and a combined sample of the 2016–2018 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)—as well as qualitative interviews conducted in fall 2019 from a diverse sample of parents across the United States, the report’s analyses demonstrate that families face significant obstacles to finding appropriate child care arrangements. (see Appendix for full methodology) To ensure their children’s care, parents develop complicated arrangements involving formal and informal caregivers, often with significant consequences for careers, financial well-being, and family life.
Key findings from the analysis include:
- ECPP data show that, compared with parents of nondisabled children, a larger proportion of parents with disabled children experience at least some difficulty finding care (34 percent vs. 25 percent) and are unable to find care (34 percent vs. 28 percent).
- Both ECPP survey data and interview data show that parents face numerous barriers to care, including a lack of available slots, scheduling challenges, and concerns about quality.
- Interviewed parents reported patching together help from extended family, child care centers, special education preschool, and nurses and home health aides, as well as making significant changes to their jobs to provide care.
- An analysis of NSCH data shows that, compared with parents of nondisabled children, parents of young children with disabilities are three times more likely to experience job disruptions because of problems with child care.
- The consequences of not finding care extend far beyond job disruptions; many interviewed parents reported greater financial strain, health challenges, and increased stress.
Supplementing these quantitative data with qualitative findings tells an even richer story of parents’ experiences with child care. Whereas quantitative survey data provide information about number and frequency—for example, how many child care arrangements a family uses or how often a pre-K program calls a father to pick up his autistic child because of challenging behavior—qualitative data shed light on the meaning behind those events.4 For example, interviewing the father may reveal that after a month of weekly calls, he feels the program no longer welcomes his family, and he sees little choice but to find a new arrangement.5 (see the Appendix for additional information on the data sources)