How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Children's Experiences in Child Care and Activities


The child care questions included in the more extensive interview for the Child Outcomes Study sample (families in three of the sites) provide the basis for the discussion below of children's recent experiences in child care whether used as a support for employment or not. These questions focus specifically on the focal child rather than on all children in the family, and they focus exclusively on the time period of the final follow-up. Focal children were between about ages 8 and 10 at the time of the five-year follow-up. Regarding child care "in the past week," respondents were asked about use of any self-care, whether there was a regular child care arrangement for the focal child, type of regular arrangement used, whether multiple arrangements were used, hours in child care across all regular arrangements, and reliance on a caregiver aged 17 or under. To address the possibility that mothers may not describe the supervision they use for their school-age children as child care, mothers were also asked about whom the focal child was with in half-hour time periods from 3 P.M. to midnight "on a recent weekday." To address the possibility of program impacts on participation in activities or lessons, mothers' reports of participation in such activities on the recent weekday afternoon and evening was also analyzed. Self care was a category in the questions both about child care in the past week and about supervision on the recent weekday afternoon and evening. While measures about a recent afternoon and evening provide useful information, such measures likely underestimate activities that occur more sporadically.

A substantial body of research indicates that children's experiences in child care are related to their development.(11) Much of this research has focused on variations in child care quality and in children's development and confirms that across both formal and informal types of child care, higher-quality care is associated with more advanced cognitive development and more positive social behavior.(12) In addition, however, there is also emerging evidence that type of child care is related to development. While quality varies widely within both formal and informal types of child care, recent findings suggest that beyond variation in quality, participation in more formal, center-based programs is related to children's cognitive school-readiness.(13) This may be, for example, because of the greater likelihood that a formal curriculum is used in center-based programs or that there is a greater availability of books and other cognitively stimulating materials in such settings.

In keeping with this finding from the larger research literature, earlier analyses of children's development in the NEWWS Child Outcomes Study have linked participation in formal child care settings with better concurrent developmental outcomes (higher scores on assessments of cognitive school-readiness).(14) Accordingly, in the analyses presented here, a key issue will be not only whether mothers' assignment to a JOBS welfare-to-work program affected the overall extent of children's exposure to nonmaternal care, but also whether there were shifts in type of care, especially between formal and informal types.(15),(16)

Some concern has been expressed that mandatory participation in a welfare-to-work program might push some mothers to leave school-age children to care for themselves while the mothers engage in work or work-preparation activities or that children might be left in the care of young caregivers (for example, older siblings). National data indicate that self-care as a primary child care arrangement increases during the early school years, from about 5 percent for children aged 6 to 9 to about 24 percent for those aged 10 to 12 with employed mothers.(17) While findings linking self-care with children's development appear to differ by age and characteristics of the child, there is some evidence that regularly spending time in unstructured and unsupervised settings is deleterious for children's development.(18) Given these concerns, this chapter also examines whether there were program impacts on families' use of self-care and care by a young caregiver.

At the time of the five-year follow-up, the focal children studied were aged 8 to 10. As noted above, in this age range a decreasing proportion of mothers report child care use. The possibility exists, however, that mothers are nevertheless making arrangements for the supervision of their school-age children, but not describing these arrangements as child care. To capture a range of possible supervisory situations that school-age children might be in, outcomes examined include not only child care arrangements that the focal children participated in "in the past week," but also a broader description of supervision of the children "on a recent weekday" (specifically whether they were with the mother, with another adult, with only a young peer or sibling, or in self-care).

After-school activities (such as participation in clubs, sports, or lessons) might also be providing supervision in the mother's absence and yet not be labeled child care. Accordingly, this section also includes after-school activities during a recent weekday afternoon. Indeed, in a recent evaluation of a New Hope work incentive and support program, program impacts on use of after-school child care and participation in activities were found, especially for boys. This program also had favorable impacts on the social and academic outcomes of school-age boys. The researchers hypothesize that participation in after-school care and activities might have protected the school-age boys in the study from exposure to street activity in dangerous neighborhoods and exposed them instead to positive, sometimes academically oriented, supervised activities.(19)