Parents’ Reasons for Searching for Early Care and Education and Results of Search: An Analysis Using the Access Framework

Access to high-quality early care and education (ECE) is important for all families. However, the reasons why parents search for care may differ and some families have difficulty finding the care they need. This snapshot presents nationally representative data on why parents search for care for their young children and the reasons for not enrolling with a new provider after such a search. Parents’ reasons for searching for care and for not enrolling with a new provider after a search are examined using a multi-dimensional, family-focused definition of access to care presented in Defining and Measuring Access to High-Quality Early Care and Education: A Guidebook for Policymakers and Researchers. Reasons are categorized into a focus on affordability (e.g., cost considerations), meeting parents’ needs (e.g., finding care that is close to home or work), and supporting children’s development (e.g., providing a stimulating learning environment).  Patterns in parents’ search and use of child care are examined by age of child and by household income.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Almost half (46%) of all parents reporting about a child under age 6, not yet in kindergarten, searched for care in the two years prior to the 2012 survey.
  • Two out of three parents (66%) searched for care for reasons related to meeting parents’ needs (e.g., so that a parent could work or attend school), 30 percent searched for care to support child development (e.g., to provide the child with educational or social enrichment), 2 percent searched for reasons related to affordability, and 2 percent searched for other reasons.
  • Almost two thirds (60%) of parents who searched for care enrolled their child with a new provider.
  • Parents who searched for care for reasons related to parents’ needs were more likely to enroll with a provider (64%) compared to those who searched for care to support child development (53%).

Findings Across Household Income

  • Parents from higher-income households were more likely to search for care compared to parents from lower-income households (51% vs. 41%).
  • Among parents who searched for care, those from higher-income households were more likely to enroll with a new provider compared to parents from lower-income households (70% vs. 54%).
  • Parents from lower-income households were more likely than parents from higher-income households to cite a lack of affordability as their main reason for not enrolling with a new provider (39% vs. 24%).

Findings Across Child Age

  • Parents with younger children were four times as likely to report searching for care to meet parents’ needs than to support child development (77% vs. 19%); parents with older children were more evenly distributed in their reasons for search.
  • Parents with older children were more likely to enroll with a new provider compared to parents with younger children (66% vs. 55%).