Parents’ Reasons for Searching for Child Care and Early Education: Findings from the 2019 National Survey of Early Care and Education

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodApr 9 2024

Several considerations factor into parents’ search for and selection of child care and early education (CCEE) for their children. Parents may consider their income, work or schooling schedules, cultural beliefs, CCEE preferences, and local supply of CCEE. An examination of parents’ CCEE search and decision-making using the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) Household (HH) survey revealed differences in CCEE search patterns among households seeking CCEE for a child under age 6. Hill et al. (2021) noted that households with lower incomes were less likely to search for CCEE compared to households with higher incomes. A similar study examining CCEE search rates among households with lower incomes also found a lower CCEE search rate among Hispanic or Latino households compared to Black and White households (Mendez & Crosby, 2018).

Among households that conducted a search in 2012, parents with younger children often cited reasons related to meeting parents’ needs, such as finding CCEE to accommodate their work or school schedule, as the main reason for their search. In contrast, parents of young children cited reasons related to supporting child’s development, such as finding CCEE to provide a specific kind of help or extra-curricular activity, significantly less. In instances where the search for CCEE did not result in a change of care, households with lower incomes were more likely than households with higher incomes to attribute this to cost considerations (Hill et. al, 2021).

Understanding the reasons why parents search for and make decisions about CCEE, and how those reasons may vary across households, can help inform efforts to promote equitable access to CCEE. This snapshot provides updated findings about parents’ CCEE search and decision-making using the 2019 (NSECE) HH Survey.1 We present findings on (1) the prevalence of CCEE searches among household respondents, usually parents,2 that reported on children under age 6, (2) the reasons for CCEE searches, (3) the rate at which parents changed their care arrangement following a search, and (4) the reasons why parents ultimately did not change their care. We tested differences in CCEE search and decision-making by household income, child age, and, where sample sizes allowed, the race and ethnicity of the selected child.

To better examine CCEE decisions within the contexts of current research, we utilize a multidimensional defnition of CCEE access ofered by the Access Guidebook3 to categorize parents’ reasons for looking for CCEE and reasons for not changing their care arrangement. This definition identifes equitable CCEE access as a process that requires reasonable efort for parents to fnd CCEE that is afordable, supports child development, and meets parents’ needs.

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.


1 A similar examination of CCEE search was featured in the 2012 NSECE snapshot, Parents’ Reasons for Searching for Early Care and Education and Results of Search. In both examinations, the 200% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) threshold was used to differentiate subsamples because it is a common eligibility threshold for social services; we are not suggesting that households with incomes that are at or above 200% FPL are necessarily households with high incomes. Notably, the current snapshot uses updated terminology to describe income-based subsamples comapred to the 2012 NSECE publication.

2 The HH Survey respondent was an adult living in the household who was “knowledgeable about the ECE usage and schedule of the youngest child in the household.” Most respondents identified as a biological, adoptive, or stepparent to at least one child in the household, but a small portion of respondents were another type of guardian or a non-custodial adult in the household.

3 For more information on this access definition, refer to the full Access Guidebook (Defining and Measuring Access to High Quality Early Care and Education (ECE): A Guidebook For Policymakers And Researchers) or a condensed research highlight (Defining and Measuring Access to Child Care and Early Education with Families in Mind).