Research Report

Child Care Systems Don’t Align with What Parents Working Nontraditional Hours Recommend

Almost 5 million (or about a third of) children younger than age 6 living in families with working parents have parents who work nontraditional hours, before 7:00 am or after 6:00 pm on weekdays or on weekends. New research from the Urban Institute seeks to understand their child care needs.

Urban researchers analyzed survey data and talked with 41 parents working nontraditional- hour schedules in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Oklahoma, finding the following:

  • About a third of all young children with working parents in these sites lived with parents who worked nontraditional hours.
  • About half of all children living with working parents whose family income is below the poverty level have parents who work nontraditional hours. Black and Latinx children are more likely than children who are white to have parents who work nontraditional hours. Sixty percent or more of young children living in single-parent households with working parents have parents who work nontraditional hours.
  • Across most nontraditional-hour periods, most parents across the sites and racial/ethnic groups recommended care in the child’s home by a relative or friend as their first choice during early mornings, evenings, and overnight. Their recommendations for weekend care varied depending on what the child was doing during the week.
  • Parents reported that supporting children’s developmental needs for stability and routine, sleeping in their own beds, unrushed meals, and getting a good night sleep were key reasons behind their recommendations for these time frames.
  • Most parents reported relying primarily on family and friends for child care in their own homes or the homes of their family or friends during nontraditional hours.
  • Cost of child care was an important issue, but no parents interviewed reported using child care subsidies for nontraditional-hour child care.

Policy actions that could support the child care options available to parents who work nontraditional hours include making child care assistance through the Child Care and Development Fund more available for the care arrangements parents recommend for nontraditional hours; ensuring that the care arrangements parents want during nontraditional hours are supported in systems that protect children’s health and safety and promote quality child care and that these systems recognize the unique child development needs of children during nontraditional hours; and providing parents with information about nontraditional-hour child care options. 

Methods

A team of researchers at the Urban Institute conducted interviews with 41 parents from Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut to learn about the nontraditional-hour child care arrangements they want and use. The research team also analyzed data from the American Community Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation to assess the potential demand for nontraditional-hour child care in these three sites. The project worked closely with state and community partners who supported the research team’s work to collect and analyze data to better understand the child care arrangements parents who work nontraditional hours want and use for their children.