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Multiple Child Care Arrangements and

Young Children’s Behavioral Outcomes

Taryn W. Morrissey


Using data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), this project examined the prevalence and characteristics associated with the use of multiple, concurrent, nonparental child care arrangements during the preschool years, and how experiencing multiple arrangements impacts children’s behavior. Among both low- and higher-income families, older children, those primarily cared for in informal child care, those living in cohabitating or single-parent households, and those whose mothers were employed fewer than 40 hours per week were more likely to be in multiple arrangements than their counterparts. High-quality primary child care and low maternal satisfaction with the primary care arrangement predicted the subsequent use of multiple arrangements. Experiencing 2 concurrent arrangements, but not 3 or more, was associated with a small increase in externalizing problems. Limited support was found for the moderating effects of primary child care type. Potential implications for policy and research are discussed.

  • Study 1: Why do Families Use Multiple Child Care Arrangements?
  • Preference-driven: Multiple arrangements are preferred patchworks of care designed to expose children to a range of settings, caregivers, and peer groups.
  • Employment-driven: Multiple arrangements are necessary to provide child care coverage during parents’ work hours.
  • Market-driven: The structure and characteristics of primary early care and education (ECE) programs do not individually meet families’ child care needs and preferences, so families combine several arrangements.
  • Figure 3 provides a framework in which child care choice is the result of parents balancing their preferences for quality with the practical constraints of employment factors and cost, within the larger constraint of the ECE options available in the market (adapted from Blau, 2001).
  • Study 1: Results
  • The availability of paternal care and the characteristics of children’s primary child care arrangements, particularly the hours, the ages served, quality, and parental satisfaction with the arrangement, emerged as relevant factors in the decision to use multiple child care arrangements.
    • Cohabitating and mother-headed households were more likely to use multiple arrangements than married households, where fathers are more involved in child care.
    • Children primarily cared for by grandparents or in-home providers were more likely to have secondary arrangements than children cared for primarily in centers. One reason for this is that many parents supplement informal care with part-day early education programs, e.g., preschool or nursery school programs, that require wraparound care. A second possibility is that many informal caregivers are employed in other capacities and tend to be less reliable than regulated family or center child care.
  • The associations between family and child care factors did not vary with family income status, suggesting that the characteristics of primary child care arrangements and family structure are important to families’ child care decisions across the income spectrum.
  • The number of hours mothers were employed was negatively related to the use of multiple arrangements, but the causal direction is unclear. These mothers may be able to secure single arrangements that meet their child care needs, or single arrangements facilitate demanding employment hours.

Table 2. Predicting Children’s Behavioral Outcomes from Number of Nonparental Child Care Arrangements at 24, 36, and 54 months: Random-Intercept and Within-Child Fixed Effects Regression Results (N = 832)

Figure 3. A model of supply and demand concerning parent choice in child care.

Early Care & Education (ECE) Availability


Cost, type, and quality of child care

# of adults and children in the home

Parent’s satisfaction with child care

Family structure

Child age

Numbers and Combinations of Child Care Arrangements

Consistent with national surveys (e.g., Capizzano & Adams, 2000), at any point before entering school, between 10% and 33% of children with employed mothers in the NICHD SECCYD experienced a “patchwork” of 2 or more nonparental child care arrangements during a single week. As shown in Figures 1 and 2, the rate of multiple arrangements increased with age, and most children in multiple arrangements were in a combination of formal (regulated center or family child care) and informal (relative, nanny, or babysitter) care.

Preference Factors


Parent’s education and attitudes


Children’s age and health

Employment Factors


Parent’s work hours

Parents work schedule

Budget (income)

  • Study 2: What are the Impacts of Multiple Arrangements on Children’s Behavior?
  • Prior studies suggest that experiencing multiple arrangements is associated with increased behavioral problems, particularly among boys (Youngblade, 2003), children with difficult temperaments (de Schipper et al., 2004), and children in low-quality primary arrangements (Tran & Weinraub, 2006). Moving among arrangements may be a stressful experience for children, and contribute to poorer social adjustment.
  • However, most previous research has used cross-sectional data and statistical techniques that may not adequately control for selection factors into child care. As demonstrated in Study 1, several child, family, and child care characteristics are associated with selection into multiple arrangements, and many of these factors are also associated with children’s outcomes; these factors must be taken into account to isolate the relationship between child care and children’s development. Within-child fixed effects regressions reduce the likelihood of omitted variables bias by comparing each child’s score to the same child’s average score across time, differencing out both measured and unmeasured stable effects.
  • Study 2: Analyses
  • The associations between the number of concurrent child care arrangements and children’s behavioral outcomes were examined using both random-intercept and within-child fixed effects regression with data from the NICHD SECCYD. Multiple imputation was used to reduce potential bias resulting from missing data, which increased the sample size from 588 to 832 children who were in 1 or more nonparental care arrangement and whose mothers were employed at least once at 24, 36, and 54 months.
  • Predictor: The number of concurrent child care arrangements, dummy-coded (0 = one arrangement, 1 = two arrangements, 2 = three or more)
  • Outcomes: Mothers’ reports from the Externalizing and Internalizing scales of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL: Achenbach, 1991) at 24, 36 and 54 months, and the Prosocial Composite and Disrupt scales of the Adaptive Social Behavior Inventory (ASBI: Hogan et al., 1992) at 24 and 36 months
  • Controls: Both stable (e.g., gender, race) and time-varying (e.g., parenting quality, family structure) covariates were included in the random-effects models. Time-varying covariates only were included in the fixed effects models.
  • Hypotheses
  • 1. Children exhibit more behavioral problems and less prosocial behavior when experiencing multiple arrangements than when in single arrangements; this is moderated by gender, temperament, age, and the type and quality of the primary care arrangement.
  • 2. Random-intercept and fixed effects models will produce slightly different results if all relevant, stable selection factors are not controlled.

Note: Separate models were run for each outcome. Child (e.g., gender), family (e.g., parenting quality), child care (e.g., quality), and background (e.g., proportion of time mother was partnered) characteristics were included as controls.

†p < .10, *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.

  • Study 2: Results
  • The experience of multiple child care arrangements is largely unrelated to children’s concurrent prosocial and disruptive behavior.
  • However, experiencing 2 arrangements was associated with a small increase in externalizing problems (r = .03). Moving among 2 arrangements may be stressful for young children.
  • In contrast, experiencing 3 or more arrangements was unrelated to children’s behavior. Children in 3 or more arrangements were more likely to be in in-home care than those in 2 arrangements, which may partially account for this difference.
  • Child gender, temperament, age, and the quality of primary child care did not moderate the relationship between number of arrangements and children’s behavior. There was limited evidence that the primary use of family child care moderated associations between behavioral problems and prosocial behaviors and the experience of 3 or more arrangements.
  • Random and fixed effects regression models produced similar results, suggesting that an omitted, time-invariant variable does not account for the relationship between multiple arrangements and children’s behavior.

Figure 1. Numbers of concurrent, nonparental child care arrangements among children with employed mothers in the NICHD SECCYD.

Study 1: Analyses

Random effects logistic regression models were used to compare the preference, employment, and child care characteristics among children with employed mothers in a single child care arrangement to those in multiple arrangements (0 = one arrangement, 1 = two or more) at 6, 15, 24, 36, and 54 months in the NICHD SECCYD (N = 759). The moderating effect of family income was tested using interactions between low-income status (1 = income-to-needs ratio < 2.00, 0 = ratio >= 2.00). The changing influences of child’s health, family income, maternal wages, child care quality, costs, and maternal satisfaction with child care were tested using predictors lagged one time point.

Number of Child

Care Arrangements

Table 1. Random Effects Logistic Regression Analysis Predicting the Use of Multiple Arrangements Among Children 6-54 months with Employed Mothers (N = 759)

  • Conclusions & Implications
  • Multiple child care arrangements are common among preschool-age children, and the use of multiple arrangements is related to the characteristics of children's primary arrangements.
  • Given the conservative nature of fixed effects models, the small but significant association between number of arrangements and children’s externalizing problems underscores how the stability of child care throughout a single day or week can impact behavioral outcomes.
  • The impacts of multiple arrangements on children’s development should be taken into account when designing early childhood policies, particularly considering the high rate of full-time parental employment and the growth in part-day prekindergarten programs, which together may lead to the use of multiple arrangements.

n = 806

n = 807

n = 800

n = 805

n = 759

Age in months

Figure 2. Combinations of child care types among children in 2 or more child care arrangements in the NICHD SECCYD.

Child Care Combinations


Blau, D. M. (2001). The child care problem: An economic analysis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Capizzano, J., & Adams, G. (2000). The number of child care arrangements used by children under five: Variation across states. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

de Schipper, J. C., Tavecchio, L. W. C., van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & van Zeijl, J. (2004). Goodness of fit in day care: Relations of temperament, stability, and quality of care with child’s adjustment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 257-272.

Tran, H., & Weinraub, M. (2006). Child care effects in context: Quality, stability, and multiplicity in nonmaternal child care arrangements during the first 15 months of life. Developmental Psychology, 42, 566-582.

Youngblade, L. M. (2003). Peer and teacher ratings of third- and fourth-grade children’s social behavior as a function of early maternal employment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 477-488.

†p < .10, *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.

Note: Additional child (e.g., gender), family (e.g., maternal education), and child care characteristics (e.g., hours in care) were included in the model but were unrelated to the likelihood of using multiple child care arrangements.

n = 67

n = 65

n = 71

n = 113

n = 431

This project was funded by Child Care Bureau Research Scholars Grant #90YE9989.

Author Affiliation: Dept. of Human Development, Cornell University,

Age in months