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Putting Children First

Putting Children First: How Low-Wage Working Mothers Manage Child Care

Ajay Chaudry
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Putting Children First
    Book Description:

    In the five years following the passage of federal welfare reform law, the labor force participation of low-income, single mothers with young children climbed by more than 25 percent. With significantly more hours spent outside the home, single working mothers face a serious childcare crunch—how can they provide quality care for their children? In Putting Children First, Ajay Chaudry follows 42 low-income families in New York City over three years to illuminate the plight of these mothers and the ways in which they respond to the difficult challenge of providing for their children’s material and developmental needs with limited resources. Using the words of the women themselves, Chaudry tells a startling story. Scarce subsidies, complicated bureaucracies, inflexible work schedules, and limited choices force families to piece together care arrangements that are often unstable, unreliable, inconvenient, and of limited quality. Because their wages are so low, these women are forced to rely on inexpensive caregivers who are often under-qualified to serve the developmental needs of their children. Even when these mothers find good, affordable care, it rarely lasts long because their volatile employment situations throw their needs into constant flux. The average woman in Chaudry’s sample had to find five different primary caregivers in her child’s first four years, while over a quarter of them needed seven or more in that time. This book lets single, low-income mothers describe the childcare arrangements they desire and the ways that options available to them fail to meet even their most basic needs. As Chaudry tracks these women through erratic childcare spells, he reveals the strategies they employ, the tremendous costs they incur and the anxiety they face when trying to ensure that their children are given proper care. Honest, powerful and alarming, Putting Children First gives a fresh perspective on work and family for the disadvantaged. It infuses a human voice into the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of welfare reform, showing the flaws of a social policy based solely on personal responsibility without concurrent societal responsibility, and suggesting a better path for the future.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-119-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Mary Jo Bane

    The last decade has witnessed a dramatic change in the experience of low-income single mothers in America. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, the most noted policy change, shifted the focus of the social safety net for poor mothers and their children from cash assistance to required work. At the same time, federal support for working families increased about threefold, primarily through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which supplements the earnings of low-income working families, and through Medicaid expansions and children’s health programs. These policy changes reflected underlying behavioral, attitudinal, and economic changes in...

  6. Child Care Terms and Definitions
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Mothers and Children in the Study Sample
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. Chapter 1 Introduction: Children’s Care in the Age of Personal Responsibility
    (pp. 1-27)

    In August 1996, President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law.¹ The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 instituted rigorous work requirements that compelled welfare recipients to work. This shift to a work-based social policy in the United States had an immediate and dramatic impact on the lives and expectations of mothers and children living in poor neighborhoods. All at once, more single mothers had to both find work and make hurried child care decisions.

    In the span of the next five years more than one million additional single mothers went to work, while other mothers...

  9. Chapter 2 Child Care Choices: “Ain’t Nowhere for My Baby to Go”
    (pp. 28-84)

    When Bethany was born on August 28, 1996, in the Highwall Valley Hospital in New York City, Brittany had been dreaming of her future daughter for months. She felt more than ready for the life that was beginning and for the struggles that might come her and her baby’s way.

    When I was like six months pregnant, for almost two weeks I dreamt about her, actually dreamt of her every night, but I could not see her face. She had her back to me. . . . I was dreaming the same thing every night, and one night she turned...

  10. Chapter 3 Child Care Dynamics: “You Have to Move Your Children Around All the Time”
    (pp. 85-118)

    Jacqueline was born on December 20, 1997, weighing a full eight pounds, on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive on Manhattan’s East Side. Julia tells of her daughter’s start:

    I never made it to the hospital, so she was born on the FDR around Sixty-third Street. The ambulance guy delivered her. I lived in the shelter up in the Bronx, but I didn’t want to go to Jefferson, the hospital there, because I heard some bad things about it, and that’s not my hospital, Buena Vista was. . . . It was almost 2:00 a.m. when I called the ambulance. I...

  11. Chapter 4 Child Care Concerns: “It’s the Worst System Ever”
    (pp. 119-155)

    Traci is a Brooklyn native. She was born in Centerville, the same neighborhood in which she has lived almost all her life and where she now resides with her son, her daughter, and the father of her children. Some would find this quaint. Traci, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to have this be her last year in New York City.

    I want to leave New York City, for one, because my family is in South Carolina and I would have more help with my kids. And it’s just a better way of life for my kids....

  12. Chapter 5 Care Strategies: “They Say If I Cannot Do It Myself, They Help Me”
    (pp. 156-186)

    Sara first came to the United States from Ecuador at the age of sixteen to live with her mother. Sara now lives with her own daughter, Cristina, and has combined study and work, both at a New York City community college, since September 1999.

    The first time Sara came to the United States in 1991, her mother’s family was living in the Hell’s Kitchen, or Clinton section, of Manhattan. Sara’s mother had left her and her three siblings behind in Ecuador when she came over to the United States ten years before, and Sara met her stepfather and her three...

  13. Chapter 6 Choosing Our Future: Child Care Policies in the Age of Work and Personal Responsibility
    (pp. 187-214)

    The findings discussed in the preceding chapters provide some reasons to be encouraged, and some cause for concern. The optimism comes, in part, from seeing that many mothers have made great strides in their paths to greater economic self-sufficiency. Most mothers in this study were able to work regularly despite turmoil in many areas of their lives. Many earned enough to lift their families above the defined levels for income poverty, and they report fewer material hardships and less social isolation than they say they experienced in earlier years. Furthermore, they showed remarkable resilience and capacity to develop and implement...

  14. Appendix A Our Childrenʼs Care: A Review of the Literature
    (pp. 215-247)
  15. Appendix B Discussion of Field Research Methods
    (pp. 248-264)
  16. Appendix C Interview Guide: Study of Child Care Arrangements in Low~Income New York City Neighborhoods
    (pp. 265-280)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 281-314)
  18. References
    (pp. 315-332)
  19. Index
    (pp. 333-344)