Job Schedule Instability in the Lives of Poor Children and their Families

By Rhiannon Reeves

For low-income parents with volatile job schedules, obtaining safe, reliable child care is extremely challenging. This was illustrated in a recent New York Times article about a young single mother whose personal, professional, and family lives were severely disrupted by her employer’s scheduling practices. With her schedule constantly changing—often at the last minute—she was forced to patch together care for her son that combined time in a subsidized preschool program with support from various relatives.

Unpredictable work schedules and the resulting scramble for stable child care have dire consequences for young children’s healthy development. As the body of evidence builds, more and more people are calling for changes to workplace policies, child care subsidy policy and practice, and further research to help stabilize the lives of poor children and their families.

In November 2013, the Urban Institute, with support from the Foundation for Child Development, convened practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to explore the impacts of instability on children, as well as implications for policy and practice.  Participants offered insights from a variety of disciplines on how federal and state policies can address the developmental risks that instability—in housing, health care, education, daily routines, and caregiving—poses for children. Last month, the Urban Institute published a report based on the November meeting along with a series of essays from some of the participants.

An essay from CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden suggests several broad policy approaches, including:

  • Improving continuity of services in public programs, such as child care subsidies, to support children and families experiencing instability.
  • Interrupting cycles that disrupt continuity of services.  For example, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act gives children without housing the right to remain in the same school they attended before becoming homeless—even if they’re residing in another district.
  • Protecting stable relationships in a child’s life to mitigate the impact of other instability challenges.
  • Tackling challenges in the low-wage labor market, such as lack of access to paid leave that contribute to cycles of instability.

The continued growth of low-wage employment demonstrates a clear need for policy and practice reforms that support stability for children and families. Policies that strengthen workforce development, support continuity of income supports, and promote fair job schedules can help families achieve economic security while supporting children’s healthy development during critical early years.

Read the participants essays here >>

Read the full report here >>