Survey Design for TANF Caseload Project: Summary Report and Recommendations. Common Measures Used, Pros and Cons


Questions about the use of child care  such as the number of different arrangements, types of arrangements, and number of hours of child care  have been administered in numerous studies of welfare recipients. However, specific questions about child care as a potential barrier to work  the extent to which it interferes with the respondents ability to attend work or training  have only recently begun to be developed and fielded. Such items were included in the WES, Nebraska, Missouri, Alameda, and CalWORKS surveys. However, child care as a work barrier is not well understood; consequently most of these studies take a somewhat different approach to measuring this potential factor. Below is a brief discussion of various aspects of child care as a work barrier and the ways in which they have been measured.

One approach involves asking respondents about their concerns about child care. Responses suggest the extent to which the mother may be struggling with child care issues that could  if not now, in the future  interfere with her ability to work or attend job training. These concerns can include such issues as the provider being too far away, too costly, unreliable, or unavailable during nonstandard hours. Seven of this type of question were asked in the first wave of the WES; three were selected for inclusion in the Nebraska survey.

A more outcomes-based approach to measuring this barrier involves directly asking whether a problem with child care has resulted in the respondent needing to quit her job, being late or absent for work, or being unable to look for work or take a job. These five items were asked in the second wave of the WES survey; those pertaining to having to quit a job or turn down a job appeared in the Missouri, Nebraska, Alameda, and CalWORKS surveys.

Problems with child care may be related to specific situations or times when it is difficult to obtain care. A series of questions in the Missouri survey ask the respondent whether any of the following situations caused her to lose or quit a job, be unable to look for a job, or lose time from work: getting care for infants; getting care for sick children; getting care for disabled children; getting after-school care; getting care during school breaks and summer; and getting early-morning or evening care for children.

Finally, other questions that appear in the surveys we examined include asking the respondent to name all the types of child care used, the total number of hours used, and the perception of the quality of child care. Although useful from a descriptive and contextual point of view, these single-item measures are less direct in determining whether child care is a barrier to the respondents employability.

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