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Should More Early-Childhood Education Centers Offer Extended Hours?

A new report from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families finds that low-income Hispanic families may be less likely to take advantage of early-childhood education programs due to working nonstandard hours—and the paper has implications for families of all backgrounds who are living in poverty.

Thumbnail image for Kindergarten-Planting-Seeds-560x235-Blog-GETTY.jpgThe center found that among Hispanic children with low-income working parents, 75 percent in single-parent homes and 87 percent in two-parent homes had a parent working nonstandard hours. The report defined nonstandard hours as those outside of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday-Friday.

"What it really speaks to is a potential mismatch between what parents may need and what the early care and education field, especially the formal school-based programs, are able to provide parents," said Lina Guzman, the center's principal investigator and the director of Child Trends Hispanic Institute.

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Guzman also stressed that this problem goes beyond Hispanic families. 

"This is really speaking to low-income children across the board," said Guzman.

She said a surprising finding for their researchers was that black and white low-income families were also more likely to work nonstandard hours.

For example, among low-income two-parent Hispanic and black families, 70 percent of parents work a combination of standard and nonstandard hours. Among low-income two-parent white families, that number jumps to 73 percent.

But earlier work from the center found that early-childhood education centers that primarily serve Hispanic children are less likely to offer full-time hours, which the center defines as eight hours of care Monday-Friday.

The report released by the center this month also found that low-income Hispanic parents are more likely to have last-minute changes in their work schedules.

"A parent who knows that their schedules are going to change from week-to-week and that they're not going to have much advance notice may be reluctant to enter into a program where they have to sign up for a consistent schedule with a consistent payment," said Guzman. "That has implications about what will be attractive, feasible, and affordable for low-income parents."

This may make a home-based provider that offers flexible hours more attractive to parents than say a Head Start program or publicly funded pre-K program.

Possible Solutions

The government has responded to this problem. When the federal Child Care Development Fund was reauthorized in 2014, it included a provision that encouraged states to offer more child care options during nontraditional hours. But the report notes that states have a lot of latitude in how they implement this.

Guzman also pointed out that center-based care may not be the best option when it comes to families that work on the weekends or during overnight hours, and she said society has some important questions to consider when it comes to work. 

"Whether it's manufacturing or agricultural or retail and service industries, as a society we may need to rethink whether we, in fact, want to continue expanding our workdays to more of that 24-7 economy and the implications this this has for all families," said Guzman.  

Center researchers used the household survey of the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education, which includes three additional nationally representative surveys, to compile this report. They focused on children from birth to age 5 who were not yet in kindergarten and lived in households with a yearly income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Image by Getty

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