Poll Analysis: Child Care in California

     The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 1,601 parents statewide from April 25 to May 1, 1999. As well as getting the results of all adults statewide and parents overall, the Times Poll specifically surveyed parents with children who are in a child or day program to get their attitudes about child care. The poll was conducted in order to understand how parents chose their child's child or day care arrangement and some of the reasons why they put their child in child care. The sample included 334 parents with children less than five years old and 476 parents with children between five and 13 years old. The study asked respondents with more than one child in one of the age groups to answer the section on child care about the child who just had the most recent birthday.

     Working Parents
     Worry about taking time off: Working parents are still not completely comfortable leaving their children. From time to time they worry about getting time off from work to care for their child, although they do not worry about losing their job because they have to take time off. About a third of working parents say there has been a time they wanted to take off, but were unable to do. And the two main reasons why they didn't was because they just could not afford to take the time off or they weren't allowed to by their employer.
     More of the poorer parents worry about losing their job or seniority if they have to take time off to care for their child. Roughly two out of five parents with a household income of less than $40,000 are concerned at least from time to time about the thought of losing their job, compared to just about a fifth of those parents who are more affluent. Looked at another way, 79% of the more affluent parent (more than $60K) never worry about losing their job because they are taking time off to look after their child, compared to 51% of parents who are less affluent (less than $20K). Seventy-eight percent of white parents never worry, compared to 50% of black parents and 46% of Latino parents.
     More than a third of parents working say that there has been a time when they wanted to take time off from work to care for their child, but were unable to do so. Of those who said that, a third say it was because they couldn't afford to take the time off, 30% say they weren't allowed to by their employer, 11% say they would have lost their job and 10% say because of their responsibility to their job.
     Do women feel guilty about returning to work: A majority of women do feel guilty about returning to work (55%) and putting their children in some kind of child care arrangement, while 30% say they never doubted their decision about going back to work (13% say their child is not in child care). Women whose household income is $60K or more feel less guilty than their less affluent counterparts. The wealthier women, though, are more divided about their feelings of guilt -- 45% say they feel guilty, while 40% say they don't feel guilty. However the poorer women has more pangs of guilt -- 49% say they feel guilty, while 28% do not. Also more Latino women (60%) than white women (48%) have the case of the guilts.
     The survey also asked what, if any, advantages are there in putting a child in child or day care. Two-thirds of all parents believe the main advantage is for better socialization and people skills, followed by the child will get an earlier education (24%), the child learns to share (11%) and better able to adapt to school (10%). Twelve percent of all parents say there are no advantages.
     Why work: Almost two-thirds of working parents say they are working because it is to support their family, 14% say it is primarily to support themselves, 11% say it is to bring in extra money and 8% say it is to have a sense of self-fulfillment. More than three in four of working fathers say it is to support the family, while 54% of working mothers say that is the reason. Three in five of single parents say they work to support family, 29% to support themselves.
     Working parents would rather stay home with their children than go to work -- and it is not only women who are saying that. Almost two-thirds of all working parents say they would prefer to stay home with their children than go to their employment (27%). Three-quarters of working mothers and 55% of working fathers say they would rather stay home and raise their children than go to work. Not surprising, working fathers by more than two to one would prefer to go to work than working mothers. Black parents in the work force are the only ethnic or racial group that would like to go to work almost as much they would like to stay home with their children.
     On-site work day care centers and company tax-saver accounts: Not many companies have on-site work centers. The poll shows that 7% of all parents who work have an on-site work center. And most companies do not have a child care tax-saver account either. Almost two-thirds of all parents who work say their company does not have a child care tax-saver account, slightly more than a fifth do have it. But of those who do have these accounts, only 6% use it.
     Kids interfere with career: Roughly two out of five (37%) parents believe children do not interfere with a woman's career, while 32% say it interferes always or often and 24% say it interferes sometimes (for a combined 56% who say children interfere with a woman's career). There is a case of perception and reality and it shows up clearly in the responses by men and women. A third (32%) of working dads say women having children do not interfere with a woman's career path, while more moms (47%) say that as well. So, 63% of men believe women having children often or sometimes interferes with a woman and her career, while just 52% of women also believe that. More black working parents believe having children does not interfere with a woman's career, than Latino working parents or white working parents do.
     About half of working parents, including 44% of working fathers and 53% of working mothers think that mothers working outside the home experience discrimination at work because of having children.
     Three-quarters of all parents and the same share of working parents emphatically agree that women who have children are just as committed to their jobs as women who do not have children, while less than a fifth each of all parents and working parents disagree. I say emphatic because 55% of all parents, including 56% of working fathers and 60% of working mothers agree with this statement strongly. Yet, this is a big issue in the work place and some employers may use this as a wedge issue when handing out promotions, although most Californians do not believe this to be true. But that doesn't mean that discrimination in the workplace does not happen. Of those working parents who agree with the statement, nearly half (49%) think that women having children are discriminated against in the workplace, while relatively the same 45% don't believe women are discriminated against.
     While parents overwhelmingly say that women with children may be committed to their jobs just as much as women without children, there isn't any agreement among parents overall as to whether working outside the home makes the woman a better or a worse mother. There is no black and white answer to this question and parents polled in this survey reflect their uncertainty about their attitudes toward working and not working. Roughly a fifth each of all parents believe mothers who work outside the home make better mothers, but also worse mothers, while 24% say it makes no difference and 21% say it depends on the circumstances as to how good or bad a mother is. Working parents are just as divided over this issue.
     Virtually all parents and working parents think it is very important for employers to provide their employees time off from work to care for their child. This belief crosses all demographic lines.
     Overall child care affordability and government assistance: More than four out of five parents and virtually the same share of working parents believe that it is difficult for most families in their area today to find affordable, high quality child care (including 28% who say extremely difficult). Working moms are in the front lines when it comes to discovering a good child care setting for their children and virtually all of them say (91%) it is difficult to find good, affordable child care in their area (including 36% who say extremely difficult). Working dads, on the other hand, do feel the stress of finding good child care as well, but it is not felt to the degree that women are feeling it. Seventy-eight percent of working dads say it is difficult (including 20% who say extremely difficult) to find good, affordable child care.
     Who should be primarily responsible for accessible child care: Responsibility lies with parents (49%) and not the government (18%) or employers (14%) when parents were asked who do they think should primarily be responsible for making sure that families have access to affordable child care. Interestingly, 52% of working dads and only 38% of working moms believe parents should be primarily responsible for accessible child care. Twenty-two percent of working mothers believe that government should be primarily responsible.
     Even with parents feeling that they should be primarily responsible for their children, it is not contradictory to think that employers should also provide some assistance in finding affordable, high quality child care. Nearly half (45%) of all parents think it is „very‰ important and 31% somewhat important (for a combined 76% who say important) for employers to provide their employees assistance in finding affordable, high quality child care. Working parents especially feel this way.
     Along with parental responsibility, 63% of all parents also believe that the government should provide tax credits to be used for child care rather than the government providing child care for families that cannot afford it (25%). Working parents are very similar in their views. But working fathers are slightly more inclined to say tax credits (68%) than working mothers (58%). A third of working mothers think the government should provide care for families that cannot afford it.
     When asked what kind of priority the government should give child care when parceling out the budget surplus, there wasn't that much enthusiasm in giving it top priority. About one in ten parents say this should be given a top priority, but a third say it should be a high priority, but not the top and 36% say some priority, but not much. About a fifth don't want it to have any priority.
     But parents are very willing (79%) to give a tax credit to families where one parent stays at home with a child under the age of five. This finding is very consistent with the rest of the survey results and the traditional roles men and women should play, and the dismay of declining traditional values.
     Good news for the Democrats, though, as we start hurdling toward the presidential election season. It seems at this point in time, the campaigns of either party's candidate will be focusing on family values, education and gun control. And almost two out of five (37%) parents think the Democrats can do a better job of handling the child care issue compared to just 14% for the Republicans. Only 2% say both are good at this issue and 17% say neither, with 30% undecided. A clear majority (56%) of self-described liberal parents, 43% of moderate parents and even 23% of conservative parents say the Democrats are better. Three out of ten self-described conservative parents, 5% each of moderate and liberal parents say the Republicans are better at child care issues. Majorities of black parents and Latino parents say the Democrats are better at handling this issue, while 28% of white parents say Democrats and 15% say Republicans, with 22% of this group saying neither.
     Another positive move for the Democrats is President Clinton's recent proposal in spending $22 billion over five years for a government program that would help parents get day care services. When parents were asked whether this proposal is too much or too little money, 41% of parents say the proposal of $22 billion is the right amount of money, 10% too much, 14% too little and 19% believe there shouldn't be any government money used for day care services or programs at all.

     Parents With Children Less Than Five Years Old
     Because of the wording of the survey, the share of parents putting their child in child or day care was smaller than some statewide statistics. Fifty-nine percent of parents with children less than five years old do not put their child in any form of child care, but 37% do. Those parents that put their child in a child care setting chose: day or group care center (12%), a baby sitter in someone else's home (7%), Head Start (5%), a baby sitter (someone other than a relative) in the child's home (5%), a relative in the child's home (4%), an on-site work center (2%) and some other child care arrangement (3%).
     The parents of very young children, less than two years of age, are not inclined to put their child in a child or day care arrangement as readily as parents with older children. If the child is less than two years old, 67% are not in a child or day care program, while 33% are. Those parents that put their young children in a child care setting chose: a baby sitter in someone else's home (10%), a relative at home (9%), a day or group center (8%), Head Start (3%), an on-site work center (2%) and at home by a baby sitter other than a relative (1%).
     Most parents make a distinction between leaving infants and older children in child care. This may be at the subconscious level -- that leaving an infant is not something they really want to or should do. The guilt in leaving these infants is overwhelming to some women and when the time comes for them to go back to work, they just can't do it. (A whopping 81% of women who have children less than two years old say they are guilty about returning to work, compared to 56% of women who have children between two and four years old.) Even though more parents with children (44%) between two and four years old say their child is in a child or day care setting, the majority (55%) say they don't send their children to any child care. But of those who are in a child care arrangement, this group is more inclined to be in day care (16%), followed by Head Start (8%), a baby sitter other than a relative at home (8%), cared for by a sitter in someone else's home (5%) , in some other center (5%), with a relative at home (2%) and at an on-site work center (1%).
     Length of time in child or day care: A third of the parents with children less than five years old, say their child spends between 17 and 30 hours a week in a child or day care program and another third say their child spends between 31 and 40 hours a week. More than one in ten (11%) say their child is in day or child care more than 40 hours a week, and 24% say their child spends 16 hours or less. The average time parents say their children spend in child or day care is 37 hours.
     Parents putting a child in child care do not think of this idea frivolously. It is not a decision to be made lightly. As I said before, there is a lot of guilt associated with sending a child, especially an infant to a child care program or setting. The results of the poll show that these decisions are made more out of financial necessity than anything else. When parents were asked why they put their children in child care, the main reason was to return to work because they needed the money (65%). A small group of parents though, about a fifth, say it is for the development of the child.
     Many of these young children started before they were a year old -- 16% were put in some child care arrangement when they were three months or younger, 24% when they were between four and six months, (for a combined 40% of the infants were in child care when they were six months or less) , 10% when they were between seven and nine months, 5% when they were between 10 months and less than one year (for a combined 55% of children less than a year old), 14% when they were between a year and less than two years, 18% when they were between two and less than three years and 13% when they were between three and four years old (45% of the children were between one and four years old).
     About three in 10 parents with pre-school children, say that a loving care provider was the most important factor in choosing a day care center or child care arrangement, followed by 20% who say qualification of staff, 18% who say location, 17% who say cost, 16% who say reputation.
     A large majority (70%) of working parents say their child or day care center is closer to home than to their office (16%).
     Although there are many reasons to change their child's child or day care, 81% say they hadn't and 11% say they changed their child care arrangement only once. Less than one in 10 say they've changed more than once.
     There are many child or day care providers that are not accredited by a government agency. In this survey, 52% of parents who have children in some child care say that their child care center or provider is accredited by a government agency.
     When asked how much money they spend on child or day care for their child in a month, only 3% say they spend between $1 and $100, 29% said they spend between $101 and $300 (for a combined 32% who pay $300 or less), 23% say between $301 and $500, 22% say between $500 and $800 and 4% say they spend more than $800 (for a combined 26% who pay $500 or more). Slightly more than one in 10 say they don't spend anything on child or day care. The average amount parents spend on child care is $415 per month. Of those who do have child care, more than two out of five of these parents say the cost of child care represents between one and 10% of their family income, 26% say it represents between 11% and 40% of their family income, and 15% say it represents more than 40% of their family income. The average percent of the family household income that child care costs represent is 23%.
     Most parents, four out of five, say no one else pays for any or all of the cost of the care of their children, while 6% say social services helps out, 3% say their employer, 3% other parent and 6% mention they receive help in some other way.
     Affordability and quality child care: Half of the parents of these young children say it is difficult to find affordable child or day care for their children (including 11% extremely difficult, 24% very difficult and 14% somewhat difficult), while the other half say it is not difficult (including 26% not too difficult and 24% not difficult at all.) to find affordable care. However, 54% say it is difficult to find quality child care (including 19% extremely difficult, 16% very difficult and 19% somewhat difficult), compared to 46% who say it isn't too difficult (including 20% not too difficult, 26% not difficult at all). Most parents find their child or day care from friends or family members.
     When asked how they personally determine what makes up a high quality child or day care program for their child, 41% of these parents say trusting the care provider, 29% say a nurturing, caring staff, 21% say a good reputation and 20% say the adult-child ratio.
     Virtually (88%) all of the parents who don't have their children in a child care arrangement now, never had them in any child or day care.

     Parents With Children Between Five and 13 Years of Age
     Three out of 10 parents surveyed had children between the ages five and 13. It breaks out by: 39% of the parents have children between the ages five and seven; 34% of the parents have children between the ages eight and 10; and 27% of the parents have children between the ages 11 and 13.
     Most of the working parents of this age group work outside the home. But 54% of the parents say they are generally home when their children return from school. However, a majority (53%) of parents whose children are a little older -- the 11-13 year olds -- say they are not home when their kids come home from school. Not surprisingly, more women (64%) than men (41%) say they are home in time to meet the kids when they come home from school.
     About three-quarters of these children are not in any child or day care program or setting. But going to day care decreases as the child gets older. For instance, 62% of parents with kids five-seven years old say their children are not in child or day care, compared to 78% of parents with kids eight-10 years old and 91% of parents with kids 11-13 years old. The children in child care go to: a before- or after-school program (14%), including 17% who are five-seven years old and 19% who are eight-10 years old. Less than a fifth (16%) of parents whose household income is $40K or more and 11% of parents whose household income is less than $40K send their child to a before- or after-school program. Roughly one in ten of the children five-seven years old also go to a day or group center.
     Of those parents who do not send their child to any child care arrangement, they say it is because they are home with their children (44%), their partner or spouse is home (22%), an older sibling is watching a younger sister or brother (9%) and 6% say the child is home alone.
     The five-13 year old children are not in day care as many hours as the preschooler. One reason could be that the older child is in school. So, nearly half of the older children are in day care 16 hours a week or less, while 28% say they are in a day care setting 17-40 hours and 19% say more than 40 hours. The average percent of time this older child is in day care is 25%.
     These parents give the same reason as their counterparts with younger children as the reason for putting their children in childcare -- they need to earn money (72%), followed by development of the child (19%).
     A quarter of parents say their child first attended child or day care when they were six months or less, (including 15% who say three months or less), 3% put their child in a child care arrangement when they were between seven months and nine months (for a combined 31% who put their child in day care before they were a year old), 17% say their child was left in child care from a year to less than three years, 23% say their child was between three and five years old before they were left in some kind of child care arrangement (for a combined 40% who put their child in day care from one year old to five years old), while 23% say their child was more than five years old when put in child care.
     The reasons these parents with older children gave for choosing a day care center, before- or after-school program or other child care arrangement was qualification of the staff (23%), location of the center (20%), how loving the provider was (20%), its reputation (17%), and cost (15%).
     Many of the parents say the child care arrangement for their children is closer to their home (63%) than it is to their office (17%), while 18% say it is equidistant to both. And, similarly to their counterparts with preschoolers, 54% of parents with older children say their child's child or day care is accredited by a government agency.
     Three in ten of parents with children five-13 years old say it costs between $101-300 per month to keep their child in some sort of child care arrangement, while 21% say it costs somewhere between $301 and $800 per month to keep their child in child care, 2% say it costs more than $800. Less than one in ten say it costs somewhere between $1 and $100 and 26% say it doesn't cost them anything. The average cost per month to keep their older child(ren) in day care is $328.
     Overall, more than half (53%) of the parents surveyed say that 1% to 10% of their family income is spent on sending their child five-13 years old to child or day care. Unfortunately, we don't have enough parents in the different income groups to categorically say that the less income a respondent earns, the more money is spent from the family income, but we assume this to be true. Anecdotally, we can characterize what we found in the poll: An overwhelming amount of parents whose household income is more than $60K say childcare costs are a very small percentage of their family income costs (10% or less), while those parents with a household income less than $20K say child care costs are a much larger percentage of their family costs (21% or more). However this less affluent group had a very high don't know at 37%. But we do know that 81% of the parents with children in this age group do not get help from anyone for their child care needs, 5% get some assistance from social services, 2% from their employer, 1% from another parent and 6% mentioned some other way.
     Affordable and quality child or day care: Almost three out of five parents with children in the five-13 year old range say they are NOT finding it difficult to get affordable child care. Roughly about two out of five say it is difficult (including 12% who say it is extremely difficult). However, quality care is not as easy to find as affordable care according to parents we surveyed. As to finding high quality child care, parents are somewhat divided as to whether finding it is difficult or not. Forty-six percent say it is difficult, while 52% say it is not .
     Parents with children five-13 years old are slightly different than their counterparts with younger children in terms of where they found their child's before- or after-school or day care arrangement . A plurality of parents (46%) say they found their child care through friends and family recommendations, a sizable 38% say they found their child care through the child's school.
     In determining personally what makes up a high quality child or day care program or setting for their child , these parents mention the same reasons as those parents with younger children less than five years old. Trusting the day care provider (32%) is what a high quality child care center or program means to them, while 32% of parents say it is some learning that goes on, compared to 28% who say it is the nurturing, caring staff, 24% say it is the good reputation and 20% are more interested in the child-adult ratio.

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     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 2,021 adults statewide by telephone April 25 through May 1. The sample includes 1,601 parents, of whom 334 have children under the age of five and 476 have children between the ages of five and thirteen. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for all parents is plus or minus three percentage points; it is plus or minus five points for the parents of children under the age of five and for the parents of children between the ages of five and thirteen. For other subgroups the error margin may vary. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.
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