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Examining alignment between child care coverage and parents’ work schedules: Initial results from EDC study

December 20, 2021
by Heidi Rosenberg, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Education Development Center (EDC) and David Bamat, PhD, Senior Research Associate, Research for Action

As described in a previous article, EDC was awarded a grant from the Administration of Children and Families’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation to examine how low-income families’ access to child care changed between 2012 and 2019. Specifically, our study examines variations in parents’ access to child care that aligns with their work schedules, the choices parents make about how to address gaps between child care coverage and work schedules, and the factors that influence the presence of coverage gaps and the ways parents address them. We focus on the child care coverage needs of low-income working parents because these parents face a greater number of challenges to accessing child care that supports their workforce participation, including unpredictable work schedules, non-traditional hours of employment, and availability of care (Hepburn, 2018; Rachidi, 2016; Scott & Abelson, 2016).

Led by PEER co-director Clare Waterman, PhD, our study uses household and calendar data from 2012 and 2019 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) to examine how working families address gaps in child care coverage, as well as the factors associated with how gaps are addressed. Working families include single-parent homes in which the parent is working and two-parent homes in which both parents are working. Our descriptive analyses revealed that between 2012 and 2019, there was a decrease in the number of working families who experienced gaps in child care coverage, as well as a decrease in the number of working families in which at least one parent worked non-traditional hours.

The next phase of the study is to use regression analyses to examine factors associated with child care coverage gaps and the ways parents address such gaps. We use calendar data to classify gaps into four types: 1) child in self-care, 2) child in-transit without supervision, 3) child in informal care with an adult, and 4) child in informal care with a minor. We aim to complete this phase in spring 2022.

The unique contribution of this research derives from exhaustive use of NSECE calendar data, which provide rich and detailed information regarding children’s experiences when they are not in formal care. Use of data from both 2012 and 2019 permits inferences to be drawn regarding changes over time in families’ experiences of child care gaps and the factors associated with gaps. Our study also addresses the full range of ages included in the NSECE data, including school-age children, who are often omitted from studies examining child care access. Findings from this study can help inform CCDF administrators’ and other child care decisionmakers’ knowledge about barriers to accessing child care that aligns with parents’ work schedules and promote the development of policies that address these challenges.

Dr. Heidi Rosenberg is an experienced researcher and evaluator with expertise in policies and practices that support infant and toddler care, state-level collaboration for early childhood education, involving families in OST learning, and continuous improvement. As a senior research scientist at EDC, she is the director of research for the ACF-funded National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment and is the co-PI, with Clare Waterman, of an OPRE-funded evaluation partnership planning grant focused on subsidy payment rates and family copayment policies in Connecticut.

Dr. David Bamat is quantitative research methodologist with content background in the sociology of education. In his role at Research for Action, he serves as a lead researcher for the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC), a research partnership between Research for Action and the School District of Philadelphia, and a lead researcher on the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) funded Children’s Literacy Initiative: Integrating Curriculum Development & Professional Development for Kindergarten Readiness, a five-year randomized study of a comprehensive preschool curriculum and pre-k teacher professional development program. Dr. Bamat is also a Lecturer in Education Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.


Hepburn, P. (2018). Parental work schedules and child-care arrangements in low-income families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80, 1187–1209.

Rachidi, A. (2016). Child care assistance and nonstandard work schedules. Children and Youth Services Review, 65, 104–111.

Scott, E. K., & Abelson, M. J. (2016). Understanding the relationship between instability in child care and instability in employment for families with subsidized care. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 344–368.

Submitted by Joanna Meyer on December 21, 2021