Child care decisions among female heads of households with school age children

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Depth interviews with 16 urban female heads of households (FHHs) were the basis of this qualitative study which sought to understand the nature of the child care decisions these women made for their school age children. A theoretical sampling model based on six dimensions of contrast (race, financial security, the presence of other caretakers in the household, the number of children in the household, and the age of children) was used in selecting the sample. All of the women were involved in work, education or training to a degree that child care was an issue for them.

The collective testimony of the sample reveals that the FHHs chose care for their children that was compatible with their role as provider and with their resources. Resources included knowledge of caregivers and settings, network support, and material resources (income, presence of care in the community, and transportation). Women who had limited resources and restrictive provider roles functioned in an environment of forced choice and were more at risk for making decisions on child care that they were not personally comfortable with. Their affect, values, and children's opinions and needs played an important role within the bounds allowed by the provider role and resources. The FHHs maintained child care arrangements until life events or changes in resources or provider role precipitated the need for another decision. However, unmet values, and unacknowledged affect and child opinion precipitated a change if they were highlighted so clearly by anomalous events that they could not be ignored. Such conditions affected immediate change in child care, but not subsequent decisions. Social policy recommendations that stemmed from these findings conclude the study.