Consequences of Teen Parents' Child-Care Arrangements for Mothers and Children

By Mollborn, Stefanie; Blalock, Casey | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Consequences of Teen Parents' Child-Care Arrangements for Mothers and Children


Mollborn, Stefanie, Blalock, Casey, Journal of Marriage and Family


Using the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (2001-2006; N [asymptotically =] 7,900), the authors examined child-care arrangements among teen parents from birth through prekindergarten. Four latent classes of child care arrangements at 9, 24, and 52 months emerged: (a) "parental care," (b) "center care," (c) "paid home-based care," and (d) "free kin-based care." Disadvantaged teen-parent families were overrepresented in the "parental care" class, which was negatively associated with children's preschool reading, math, and behavior scores and mothers' socioeconomic and fertility outcomes compared with some nonparental care classes. Nonparental care did not predict any negative maternal or child outcomes, and different care arrangements had different benefits for mothers and children. Time spent in nonparental care and improved maternal outcomes contributed to children's increased scores across domains. Child-care classes predicted maternal outcomes similarly in teen-parent and nonteen-parent families, but the "parental care" class predicted some disproportionately negative child outcomes for teen-parent families.

Key Words: adolescent parents, child care, child-care arrangements, early childhood, latent class analysis, life course.

Improving the life outcomes of teen parents and their children is an important policy goal in the United States today, especially given that more than one in six teen girls is projected to give birth before turning 20 (Perper & Manlove, 2009). One policy measure that seems promising for simultaneously improving the situations of young mothers and their children is nonparental child care. Care situations are an important arena of socialization during early childhood, which is a period of tremendous cognitive and socioemotional growth that influences later development (Campbell, Pungello, MillerJohnson, Burchinal, & Ramey, 2001). In the first 4 years of life, cognitive, behavioral, and health disparities between the children of teen parents and their peers take root and intensify (Mollborn & Dennis, in press), and policy dollars invested in early childhood programs, such as child care, pay off handsomely in improved outcomes throughout the life course (Duncan, Ludwig, & Magnuson, 2007). If early child care predicts more positive outcomes for teen parents' children than for their peers, then policies supporting it may be able to prevent developmental disparities from taking root. Little is known, however, about the nonparental care situations experienced by these children and the consequences of different types of care. The benefits of local programs that provide center-based care for teen mothers and their children have been documented. But even in the broader child-care literature, the implications of other common types, including home-based and kin-based care, are less clear. With the present study, we contribute to the literature by analyzing recent, nationally representative longitudinal data to investigate the consequences of a variety of care arrangements for children of teen parents and their mothers.

Understanding how child-care arrangements influence the children of teen parents and their families is important for both theory and policy. In the United States, many people assume that the best place for a young child to learn is at home with his or her mother, although mounting evidence disputes this conclusion (Crosnoe, 2007; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002, 2004). At the same time, a life course theoretical perspective emphasizes that teen mothers are in a life stage in which education and career development are important goals. Echoing these ideas, public discourse suggests that the best place for a teen mother to be is at school or work, as evidenced by the debate around welfare reform and the resulting restrictions on underage mothers' activities (Schott, 2009). Hence, parenting teens often face a normative double bind, seen as failed mothers if they use nonparental care but as failed adults if they stay home instead of studying or working.

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