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

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

Footnotes and References


a In this brief, we use the terms early care and education (ECE), child care, and nonparental care interchangeably to capture the wide range of home- and center- based settings where young children spend time with caregivers when parents are unavailable. Although ECE is sometimes used in the literature to refer specifically to preschool-aged, formal arrangements, we use the term more broadly given that children’s experiences of care and educational opportunities are not limited to a particular age group or type of setting.

b In this brief, we use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably.

c We do not directly examine child care market factors, including the supply of care in local communities, which can shape the availability and cost of care.


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2 National Research Council. (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from

3 Workman, S., & Jessen-Howard, S. (2018). Understanding the True Cost of Child Care for Infants and Toddlers. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

4 Crosby, D., Mendez, J., Guzman, L., & López, M. (2016). Hispanic Children’s Participation in Early Care and Education: Type of Care by Household Nativity Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Child Age. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

5 Schochet, L. (2019). The Child Care Crisis is Keeping Women Out of the Workforce. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

6 Corcoran, L., & Steinley, K. (2017). Early Childhood Program Participation, Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016 (NCES 2017-101 (NCES 2017-101). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

7 Crosby, D., Mendez, J., & Barnes, A. (2019). Child Care Affordability is Out of Reach for Many Low-Income Hispanic Households. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

8 Mendez, J. L., Crosby, D. A., & Siskind, D. (2018). Access to Early Care and Education for Low-Income Hispanic Children and Families: A Research Synthesis. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

9 Vesely, C. K., Ewaida, M., & Kearney, K. B. (2013). Capitalizing on early childhood education: Low-income immigrant mothers’ use of early childhood education to build human, social, and navigational capital. Early Education & Development, 24(5), 744-765.

10 Mendez, J. L., & Crosby, D. A. (2018). Why and How do Low-Income Hispanic Families Search for Early Care and Education (ECE)? Bethesda, MD: National Center for Research on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from

11 Guzman, L., Hickman, S., Turner, K., & Gennetian, L. (2016). Hispanic Children’s Participation in Early Care and Education: Parents’ Perceptions of Care Arrangements, and Relatives’ Availability to Provide Care. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. Retrieved from