This report represents the first, exploratory phase of a larger study to learn about the experiences of low income families of children with special needs in finding and keeping child care and balancing work and family. Our interest in this area focused on a number of policy arenas including the child care system, workplace policies, welfare reform and the system of early intervention and special education for children zero to five. We recognized that all of these programs and policies affected employment decisions and strategies and the ability of parents to balance work with the needs of their families. Given the complexity of our study, we chose to begin by conducting qualitative research with families in order to explore what issues were involved and what methodologies in the larger study would best address those issues. Therefore, during the first year of our three-year study, we conducted focus groups and in-depth,
semi-structured interviews with parents and guardians of children with special needs. These were held between May 20th and November 13th, 2002.We hope that these and the other findings that emerge from our research will help bring the voices of these parents into the debates about child care, welfare reform and special education that are taking place at the state and federal level. Our aim in conducting the research in the manner we did, was to emphasize for policy makers the importance of looking across policies and programs to understand how the system as a whole affects this population of children and families. By focusing on the families’ experiences first, and then looking at all the sectors of the system which serve them, we hope by the end of this project to provide a sense of where inconsistencies in policies, gaps in services and fragmentation of programs may be making the work/family balance for these families more difficult.
Suggested Citation: Ward H, Atkins J, Herrick A, et al. Child Care and Children With Special Needs: Challenges for Low Income Families: Parents' Voices. Portland, ME: University of Southern Maine, Muskie School of Public Service; April 2004.