Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Dr. Mary Katherine O'Connor


In order to understand parents' child care decision making for young children (under 6), this interpretive research interviewed 24 parents and 7 child care professionals from a mid-sized region in Virginia. Using a constructivist research design, the research question explored how parents make child care decisions. Working hypotheses focused the data collection on the role of experience in shaping parents' preferences, the relationship between family needs and child care decisions, and the interactions with family and child care services. The research product is a narrative case study. Child care decision making is conceptualized as an ongoing process bounded by the family context and the child care resources of the community. The four major conceptual categories describing the decision making process are: Multiple Pathways to Child Care Decisions, Selecting Child Care, Child Care Experiences, and Positions Regarding Changes in Child Care.Lessons learned were that families came to any child care decision with different circumstances, resources and preferences. Families' options appeared related to the resources they had: financial, support from others, and supportive workplaces. When selecting child care families experienced both external and internal challenges; accessing information was a common challenge. Another challenge to child care decision making voiced by parents were the trade-offs they felt compelled to make given the mismatches between their preferences and the child care resource context. Limitations to existing child care information, referral and assistance programs were noted and viewed as related to state policy limitations. Parents emphasized the importance of relationships with providers in selecting care and in maintaining quality child care. Parents were able to articulate what worked and didn't work with their child care choices: provider/child and provider/parent compatibility, connection to other families/children in care, work demands, transitions to child care, and a family's resources.Implications for policy and practice include increasing child care services, supporting caring partnerships among families and child care providers, enacting policies that support increasing options for families, and involving the business sector in creating child care resources that better correspond to families' needs. Further research into developing relational models of child care decision making, the role of values, the meaning of trade-offs, and the intersection of time with decision making are suggested.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

Included in

Social Work Commons