Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy

Children, Youth and Families

Child Care and Children with Special Needs: Challenges for Low Income Families: Parents' Voices


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.

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Publish Date: 
April 1, 2004

Cutler Institute awarded $600,000 to help youth raised in foster system

Marty Zanghi

USM's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy has been awarded a $600,000 grant to help young people raised in Maine's foster system to prepare for college and the workforce.

The money comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of a $5.4 million national effort aimed at youth who are homeless or in either the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

"Many of these young people have suffered abuse or trauma and were raised in poverty and neglect," said Marty Zanghi, the Cutler Center's youth development director.

The money -- including an expected $400,000 more in matching funds -- will pay for contracted work with agencies in the target areas, starting with the greater Portland area and Penobscot, Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Nationally and in Maine, only about 3 percent of people who grow up in the foster care system achieve a college degree, he said.

"It's dramatically lower than the rate for the general population," Zanghi said. "It's a horrible outcome."

It doesn't have to be that way, though.

"There are young people that overcome these circumstances," he said. "I know people who have master's degrees and Ph.Ds."

The Casey Foundation's national effort is being called the "Learn and Earn to Achieve Potential" (LEAP) initiative.

The initiative is working on partnerships in Maine and nine other areas: Alaska, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and New York. In each case, people will adapt two evidence-based models to meet the needs of these youth, including support to address the trauma they may have experienced in their lives.

In Maine, the work will include a pair of successful programs, Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) and Jobs for the Future. Results will be carefully tracked, Zanghi said.

After the first year, the program is expected to grow.

"Eventually, the additional help will be available to all children, 14 and over, in the foster care system in the state of Maine," Zanghi said.

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