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Influences on Parents’ Child Care Choices: A Comparative Analysis of Preschool and Long Day Care Users

Abstract

Background

This paper investigates Australian parents’ child care decision-making, including the motivational and influential factors that they attribute to their choice. Research demonstrates that child care decision making is multifaceted, involving a combination of child-related, personal, familial and contextual considerations. Existing research has tended to compare centre-based child care users with those using family-based options, and has not examined differences in the decision-making of parents who using different centre-based options.

Objective

This study compared the characteristics and child care choices of parents using long day care (LDC) with those using preschool services to determine (1) whether they differ demographically and (2) if their reported child care decision-making motivations and influences diverge.

Method

Participants were 1418 parents who completed a nationally-distributed survey in which they provided demographic information, specified their reasons for choosing to use child care, and rated the importance of factors that influenced their child care choice.

Results

LDC parents had, on average, younger children, worked longer hours and resided in areas with lower socioeconomic resources than preschool parents. When compared with preschool parents, those using LDC were more likely to nominate pragmatic factors as influencing their child care decision making. External pressures, mainly related to educational outcomes, were more salient for preschool than LDC parents. However, both groups of parents similarly rated child-centred factors as the most important overall influence.

Conclusion

Our findings add complexity to current understandings of parents’ child care decision making by showing that parents should not be treated as a homogenous group by policy makers, providers, and researchers.

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Acknowledgements

We also express our gratitude to Susan Maidment for her invaluable research assistant work on this project.

Funding

This research was funded by Australian Research Council Linkage Grant LP130100129, and KU Children’s Services and Goodstart Early Learning.

Author information

Correspondence to Sheila Degotardi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Authors Degotardi, Sweller and Fenech received research funding to undertake this research from KU Children’s Services and Goodstart Early Learning. The authors, however, declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethics approval was received for this research from Macquarie University’s Human Research Ethics Committee (REF: 5201400120). All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/r39) which is in accordance with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendix 1: Definitions of Formal Child Care Types, as Provided in the Survey

Appendix 1: Definitions of Formal Child Care Types, as Provided in the Survey

To be eligible to complete a parent survey you must either be currently using a formal child care service. These services are regulated and provided outside the family home. Formal child care options for families with children birth—school age include:

  • Long day care: a centre based service that usually operates from 7 am to 6 pm for 48 weeks of the year. Caters for children from 6 weeks to school age.

  • Preschool (known as kindergarten in some states): a centre based service that usually operates 9 am–3 pm (with possible extended hours) during school term. Generally caters for children 3–5 years.

  • Family day care: a regulated service based in the home of the carer that usually operates from 7 am to 6 pm for 48 weeks of the year. Caters for children from 6 weeks to school age.

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Degotardi, S., Sweller, N., Fenech, M. et al. Influences on Parents’ Child Care Choices: A Comparative Analysis of Preschool and Long Day Care Users. Child Youth Care Forum 47, 683–700 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-018-9452-3

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Keywords

  • Child care choice
  • Child care decision making
  • Parents
  • Centre-based care
  • Early childhood education