What Child Care Arrangements Do Parents Want during Nontraditional Hours? Insights from Parents in the District of Columbia

Nearly 11,000 children in the District of Columbia younger than age 6 have parents who work nontraditional hours, before 7:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. on weekdays or anytime on weekends. New research from the Urban Institute seeks to understand their child care needs.

Urban researchers talked with 41 parents working nontraditional-hour schedules, including 15 parents in DC, and analyzed national survey data on nontraditional-hour work patterns in DC. Key findings include the following:

  • More than a third of children younger than age 6 living with working parents in the District of Columbia had parents who worked nontraditional hours, most commonly in the evenings (almost 60 percent), though significant shares worked in other time frames as well.
  • The share of children with working parents whose parents worked NTH was even higher for children living in neighborhoods south of the Anacostia river, children living with single parents, children in families with low incomes, and Black and Latinx children.
  • Most DC parents interviewed recommended care in the child’s home by a relative or friend as their first choice for care during early mornings, evenings, and overnight. Their recommendations for weekend care varied depending on what the child was doing during the week.
  • DC 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.

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 NTH hours; and providing parents with information about nontraditional-hour child care options.