Working Paper

The Effects of Welfare and Employment Policies on Child Care Use by Low-Income Young Mothers

| Anna Gassman-Pines

Summary of Key Findings for Working Paper No. 19


High-quality child care plays an important dual role in the lives of families: It supports both parents’ work as well as the cognitive and social development of children. Child care’s dual role is particularly important for low-income young mothers who lack work experience and teen mothers whose early childbearing increases their children’s of poor developmental outcomes. But if low-income parents and their children are to realize the benefits high-quality care, it is important that these families’ child care choices be understood.

This study examines the types of child care used by young mothers who enter the workforce, in the context of eight different welfare and employment programs that operated in five states.

Key Findings

  • Programs that increased employment or participation in education or training activities significantly increased use of child care overall. However, comparing two types of child care - formal care arrangements and home-based care arrangements - it was found that programs that increased employment or participation in employment-related activities among young mothers increased use of formal child care and had no effect on the use of home-based child care.
  • Looking more closely at two types of formal care - center-based care and Head Start - a clear pattern emerges. The four programs that increased mothers’ employment or participation in employment-related activities increased use of center-based care and decreased use of Head Start. It appears that as the young mothers in these programs moved from welfare to work they traded use of Head Start for center-based care.
  • Programs that did not increase employment or participation in employment-related activities had no effect on use of any care overall or on the use of formal care, home-based care, or Head Start. Surprisingly, programs that did not increase young mothers’ employment or participation in employment-related activities significantly decreased their use of center-based care relative to the control groups. This is a puzzling finding; there are no clear reasons for the decrease in center-based care.

Conclusions and Implications

These results indicate that policymakers and program directors should strongly consider adding services during the hours that Head Start does not operate or extending funding to make Head Start a full-day program. Many Head Start programs have already moved in this direction. Because Head Start is available only to preschool-aged children, efforts should also be continued to improve the quality of all child care.