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Care at a Glance: A Profile of Informal Care Settings Across Massachusetts

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 1:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

High-quality early childhood education and care can lead to important short- and long-term benefits for children, such as improved cognitive and social-emotional development (Barnett et al., 2013; Heckman, 2008). These findings have largely been situated in the context of formal center-based care, even though at least 25% of children spend their days in informal settings (Loeb et al., 2015), which we define as licensed or unlicensed home-based care. Aside from a few studies examining the relationship between informal care and child outcomes (e.g., Bassok et al., 2016; Thomas et al., 2015), there is a dearth of contemporary research in this area. A broader view on early education and care is critical for understanding the link between children’s early experiences and their development. In the present study, we address the following questions: (1) What are the sociodemographic characteristics of children and families in informal care settings in Massachusetts (MA)? (2) What types of credentials and professional learning experiences do informal care providers in MA have? and (3) How do the developmental outcomes and experiences of children in informal care compare with those in formal care?

We draw our data from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H), a large-scale, longitudinal, population-based study of young children’s learning and development and the features of their care settings in MA. Through a household survey in 168 neighborhoods across the state, network sampling in settings recruited through the household survey, and random sampling of licensed settings from state data, the study includes a representative sample of 3,200 3- and 4-year-olds in the state. In the study, children’s developmental outcomes were assessed in several domains (e.g., cognition, social-emotional skills), families and providers completed surveys on a variety of topics (e.g., socio-demographic factors, ratings of children’s skills and competencies, types of activities children engaged in), and care settings were assessed for their quality using standard observational tools.

Preliminary analyses revealed that approximately 31% of children in the sample are enrolled in informal care (i.e., licensed/unlicensed home-based care). Children in informal care are on average younger than those in formal care. Contrary to prior research, both parents and providers of children in informal care tend to be highly-educated (>60% with at least a Bachelor’s degree) and White (>85%). Informal care providers tend to be older and have more years of experience than formal care providers. We also found that children spend different amounts of time on various academic and non-academic activities based on the type of care. For example, children in formal care spend more time in academic activities (e.g., literacy, math, science) and creative play. On the other hand, children in informal care spend more time in active play and watching TV (see Figure 1).

Our preliminary analyses provide an emerging picture of informal care in MA. The final presentation will offer additional results including provider credentials, quality of care settings, and children’s developmental outcomes. We will also consider policy implications for supporting informal care in MA and more generally.

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