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Child-Care Subsidies Spur Mothers to Work, Study Finds

Low-income mothers who are provided state and federal child-care subsidies are more likely to work—and work 40 hours per week—than their peers who are not granted such subsidies, a new study from the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College in Boston, Mass., has found.

Working mothers need child care, "that's a 'duh' to any working parent," said Nancy L. Marshall, a senior research scientist and the center's associate director, in an interview. "But the question with public dollars (in this case) is, 'What's best way to improvement employment?'"

Another alternative might be to try to spur job growth more directly, she explained.

But public policies that link child care subsidies to employment work well in Massachusetts, where Marshall and her colleagues surveyed 665 low-come families. Those who participated in the study both received and failed to be approved for state and federal child-care subsidies.

Of those who were granted subsidies, children were placed in day care centers, Head Start programs, family child-care homes, public school preschools, or informal care.

Not only did these mothers work more, but their children were afforded more types of care options as well as higher-quality care, Marshall said.

Furthermore, "the team also found that families on the subsidy wait list are at a particular disadvantage as they have the greatest difficulty paying for care, the least access, and the poorest-quality child care," the study stated.

In sum, they can't pay for help and often rely on "kith and kin" to care for their children while they work, a method of babysitting that researchers consider to be of a lower quality than is offered at a more formal child-care setting, the study states.

Additional study is necessary to further make decisions about child-care policies as a means to spur employment, researchers noted.

The report can be found in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly, fourth quarter edition, 2013. It is available by subscription.

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