Child Care Selection Under Welfare Reform

How Mothers Balance Work Requirements and Parenting
James F. Mensing
Edgewood Institute
Desiree French
Data Scientist
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Sharon Lynn Kagan
Columbia University


This paper examines the reasoning and experiences of mothers in selecting childcare while trying to meet welfare-to-work requirements. Three theoretical positions that have been used to look at child care selection—rational choice, structuralist, and cultural—are examined and critiqued in light of a structural developmental psychology perspective. The paper reports on semi-structured, open-ended interviews with seven mothers from three different ethnic groups—African-American, Anglo, and Latina—who range in age from 21 to 42. Interviews covered a 15 month period following the mothers’ enrollment in a welfare-to-work program. The major finding is that mothers have hierarchically ordered criteria for evaluating childcare possibilities and the preeminent criterion is that they trust the childcare provider to keep their children safe and well cared for. Structural constraints on the mothers’ choices are also analyzed. The findings in this article suggest that policymakers should focus on issues of trust and legitimacy of childcare providers, as well as on more traditional concerns of supply and educational quality.

This article was originally published in Early Education and Development by Lord & Francis.

Suggested citationMensing, J. F., French, D., Fuller, B., & Kagain, S. L. (2000, August). Child care selection under welfare reform: How mothers balance work requirements and parenting [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.