Study Shows Parents of Children with Disabilities Experience Three Times More Childcare Challenges



A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that parents of children with disabilities are experiencing “meaningful obstacles to accessing child care” (1).

This conclusion came from several data sources, including the 2016-2018 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), the 2016 Early Childhood Program Participation Survey (ECPP), and interviews conducted in 2019 from parents across the U.S.  

The analyses revealed that (1):

  • 34% of parents of children with disabilities experienced some form of difficulty finding child care, while 25% of parents of children without disabilities experienced difficulty.
  • 34% of parents of children with disabilities are unable to find child care, while 28% of parents of children without disabilities are unable to find care.
  • Parents of children with disabilities are three times more likely to have issues maintaining employment than parents of children without disabilities. 
  • Parents of children with disabilities reported more stress, financial strain, and health challenges than parents of children without disabilities. 
  • 22% of children with disabilities received care from multiple sources (child care facilities, family members, etc.), while 13% of children without disabilities received care from multiple sources.

Why is it harder for them to find care?

Parents of children with disabilities noted the many difficulties they experienced when looking for childcare. They noted (1):

  • Shortage of available slots in child care programs (12% of parents of children with disabilities reported a lack of available slots as their main difficulty in finding care; 8% of parents of children without disabilities reported this as their main difficulty)
  • Concerns about quality (lack of training for disability-specific child care)
  • Scheduling difficulties
  • Costs of care (families of children under the age 5 spend roughly 10% of their income on child care; this amount does not account for additional costs of having a child with a disability, including adaptive equipment and specialty services)

A Washington family’s story

In a recent news story for KXLY, a Spokane Valley, Washington mom speaks about the difficulty she experiences finding child care for her 2-year-old daughter Leah. Leah has the neurodevelopmental disorder, Rhett syndrome (2). Her mother, Nicolette, is a single working mom, so she is desperately in need of child care. The caretaker she had in place resigned when Leah received her diagnosis because they didn’t think they could handle the care she needed.

Leah has never had a seizure, but many child care workers will not watch her in fear that she might. It is rare that child care facilities will have specialty staff on board to handle the specific needs of children with disabilities, and the ones that do are often unaffordable (2). Nicolette explains that not only does she struggle to find care, but she also needs to maintain the funds to pay for her daughter’s specialized medical care. The financial needs are a constant worry, and so is the fear of losing work because she can’t obtain child care. She is grateful to have her family nearby at present to help her, but what about the parents of children with disabilities who aren’t so lucky?

What changes could be made to assist parents of children with disabilities?

The CAP study notes that there are a few policy changes that would directly assist these parents (1). If the proposed bill “Child Care for Working Families Act” was passed, child care would be made more affordable for all families. Additionally, this act would make it so that child care is higher-quality and more inclusive for children with disabilities. Additional options include investing more money into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and increasing work-family policies, such as paid family and medical leave (1). All of these changes would limit barriers between parents of children with disabilities and their child care needs. 

Parents of children with disabilities remain hopeful that some of these changes are in our country’s future.

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The award-winning Washington birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers have helped children across the country affected by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy, and other disabilities.

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Other recent blog posts:


  1. Novoa, C. (2020, January 29). The Child Care Crisis Disproportionately Affects Children With Disabilities. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from
  2. Oliver, E., & Oliver, E. (2020, February 9). Local mom struggles to find child care for her special needs daughter. Retrieved February 15, 2020, from

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