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The State of Early Education and Care in Massachusetts: Findings from a Statewide Household Survey

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Families rely on a variety of settings to meet the education and care needs of their young children (Bassok et al., 2013; Fuller et al., 2004; Magnuson et al., 2014). Yet research and policy discussions around early learning and care often focus on formal classroom-based settings (Loeb, 2016). A truly representative sample of 3- and 4-year-old children should include those enrolled in formal programs and those receiving informal care from relatives or other unlicensed providers. In this paper, we discuss the design and key findings from a large-scale household survey of families that provides a comprehensive overview of early education and care use among three- and four-year-olds in Massachusetts.

Traditional methods of study recruitment (e.g., collaborating with educational agencies) are unlikely to identify those who rely exclusively on informal care. To address this challenge, we launched a statewide household survey of families with young children in Massachusetts. The household survey was conducted with a stratified random sample of 168 block groups across the state. Information was collected by trained field workers during in-person household visits purposely conducted on variable days at varying times.

This effort resulted in the recruitment of a representative sample of 839 3- and 4-year-olds and their families. In each household, we collected detailed information on children’s current care arrangements, including type(s) of care utilized, and the number of hours of care used. Caregivers were also asked to rate their confidence in the child’s care setting, and asked caregivers to share their greatest worry for their child’s future and attributes of the child.

We divide care settings into formal care (e.g., community-based providers, Head Start, and public prekindergarten) and informal care (e.g., licensed family child care, unlicensed non-relative care, and unlicensed non-parental relative care). Preliminary weighted results reveal that the families in Massachusetts rely on a wide variety of early learning and care arrangements for their children. Among three- and four-year-olds in the state, an estimated 40 percent are primarily enrolled in formal settings and 9 percent are enrolled in informal settings, while an additional 10 percent utilize both formal and informal care. However, a large share of children (41 percent) receive only parental care.

Preliminary findings also suggest that three-year-olds are more likely to be enrolled in informal care settings or utilize parental care only relative to four-year-olds; this pattern holds across geographic regions and income levels. Families in higher-poverty communities are also more likely to rely exclusively on parent care and less likely to enroll their children in formal care settings; at the same time, high- and low-income families report similar levels of confidence in their children’s care.

In light of growing evidence regarding differences in families’ access to high-quality care and education along racial and socioeconomic lines (Bassok et al., 2012; Magnuson and Waldfogel, 2005), it is imperative efforts to understand families’ use of early care and education focus on both formal and informal care use. Our study provides an illustration of how such research efforts can be carried out at the state level.

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