Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Employment and Child Care Trends: Some Critical Issues and Suggested Policies

Academic journal article Social Work

Parental Employment and Child Care Trends: Some Critical Issues and Suggested Policies

Article excerpt

The growing trend for employment of both mothers and fathers outside the home has been accelerated by the welfare-to-work requirements of the Family Support Act of 1988. This article reviews pertinent research concerning the effects of parental employment and various kinds of substitute child care on very young children and their mothers and fathers. The article also summarizes recent federal legislation concerning child care provisions for young children of working parents, income supports for the working poor population, and job-training provisions for recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The pros and cons of full-time employment of parents of the very young children are briefly examined from the viewpoints of related research and clinical observations. The author closes with some suggestions for further studies, direct practice with families, and action for improved social programs.

It is common knowledge that there has been a rapid increase in the number of women in the labor force since the late 1960s (Hayes, Palmer, & Zaslow, 1990). This continuing growth is particularly true for mothers of young children; for example, more than half of the mothers of children younger than six were in the labor force in 1990 (Hofferth, Brayfield, Deich, & Holcomb, 1991). This has also been found to be true for children younger than three (Kammerman & Kahn, 1991). Many reasons exist for the increase in maternal employment: the push for equality between women and men in both the home and the workplace; the rise in the cost of living without sufficient concomitant increases in wages; the growth in the number of female-headed families; changes in the nature of many jobs from heavy, unskilled labor to service and white-collar work; and widespread cultural norms that emphasize individual achievement and economic independence through employment for both women and men, as well as materialism and conspicuous consumption (Bohen, 1984; Dornbusch & Stober, 1988; Phillips, 1990; Spitzer, 1988).

This article summarizes related research regarding the impact of these trends on parents and children and presents related parental employment and child care federal legislation, with an emphasis on recent developments. The article then looks at the pros and cons of parental full-time employment versus full- or part-time stay-at-home parenting. Finally, some suggestions are outlined for changes in current norms and values, as well as in public and private policies. Although issues for poor people are emphasized, the discussion also considers parental employment and child care concerns of more advantaged families.

Effects of Child Care Outside the Home

Hayes et al. (1990), in a report of the National Research Council, provided an important overview and analysis of child care research as developed by two national committees of outstanding scholars in child care policy and child development research and public policy.

In summarizing large bodies of research on the effects on children of child care outside the home, the scholars concluded that

* Child care outside the home is not necessarily harmful to a child's development. In fact, high-quality programs can be useful in promoting a child's intellectual and social development.

* The quality of child care is of prime importance.

* A child's experiences at home and in child care settings are closely linked; both sets of factors interactively contribute to a child's development.

* A child's placement in child care of higher or lower quality in part reflects family psychological and socioeconomic factors. "In the absence of subsidies or interventions, families that are more stressed, both psychologically and economically, are more likely to use lower quality care" (Hayes et al., 1990).

* Questions remain as to the impact of child care by parent substitutes during the first year of life.

Hayes et al. …

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