Work Hours, Family Composition, and Employment Predict Use of Child Care for Low-Income Latino Infants and Toddlers

Research BriefHispanic Children & FamiliesJul 22 2020

Households with infants and toddlers are increasingly a focus of early care and education (ECE)a policy.1 High-quality care is important for children during their early years when rapid brain development is occurring,2 so lagging availability and access to affordable ECE for these age groups, relative to preschool children, is cause for concern.3 In this brief, we examine the child, household, and community characteristics that predict ECE participation for Latinob infants and toddlers living in low-income households. These children have among the lowest utilization rates of nonparental care.4

Many low-income parents with young children face challenges as they look for a job or work while trying to secure care for their infant and toddler-age children.5 Child care may be especially difficult for Hispanic families to access because of its cost. Latino parents of young children report cost as the primary reason for difficulty finding child care, rather than other factors such as location or availability.6 Recent national data show that although some low-income Latino families have access to free ECE options (such as Head Start), about 3 in 10 families using care face high out-of-pocket costs.7 This means that for many low-income Latino parents, accessing nonparental care may be out of reach financially.5,7

In addition to cost and availability of care, several characteristics of Hispanic households are also known to be associated with whether nonparental care is used. For example, among low-income Hispanic households, national data show that immigrant households tend to have higher rates of paid provider care provided by someone not previously known to them (unfamiliar), as compared with nonimmigrant Hispanic households.4 This may signal that social networks facilitate ECE access and sources of nonparental care differently across nonimmigrant and immigrant Hispanic households.8,9 This may also signal that Latino immigrant networks may be limited in size and reach relative to those of U.S.-born Hispanic families. This, in turn, may limit immigrant Hispanic families’ awareness of what ECE options, including publicly subsidized options, are available in their communities.

Low-income Latino households also report searching differently for ECE relative to other racial/ethnic groups. For example, research shows that low-income Hispanic families with children under age 5 consider fewer ECE providers during their search for child care than their low-income Black and White counterparts.10 However, low-income Latino families report similar reasons to their peers for using care—mainly, to support their work or their children’s development.10 They also are less likely to have relatives nearby who could provide unpaid child care, compared to their low-income Black and White peers.11 Taken together, as with all families, various factors influence the selection and availability of ECE for low-income Hispanic families, including those with infants and toddlers.

Using data from the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), we examine how child, household, and community characteristics relate to low-income Hispanic families’ use of infant and toddler care (as illustrated in Figure 1). We explore a range of child-level characteristics, including number and ages of children and whether there are children with special needs in the household. At the household level, we examine family structure and household composition (including the presence of grandparents or other relatives), parents’ work status, and other sociodemographic characteristics that shape the resources they may have to secure child care arrangements (e.g., income, nativity status of the household, and the extent to which English is spoken regularly at home). For community context, we include two broad indicators of the environment in which families live—urbanicity and poverty density—because of their implications for influencing the search process and supply of care.c

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