Journal Issue: When School Is Out Volume 9 Number 2 Fall 1999
While the basic working definition of self-care—when a child between the ages of roughly 5 and 14 years is alone at home—is uncomplicated, the task of measuring how many children experience self-care has proved to be a challenge. Sixteen large, nationally representative surveys conducted over the past four decades reflect the difficulty of eliciting meaningful data on the prevalence of self-care and the difficulty of capturing all the relevant characteristics of the very diverse population of children who experience self-care.13
Among the 16 surveys, the populations of children sampled varied widely, both in terms of the age ranges of the sampled children and in terms of the characteristics of the sampled families. For example, some surveys sampled only children of employed mothers; others, children of all mothers. In addition, the surveys focused on different periods of the day or week, such as before school only, after school only, or any period during the week. Finally, the surveys vary in their sensitivity to the fact that many working parents patch together different forms of care for their children to cover the hours while they are at work. One of the surveys asked what arrangements were made for the daytime care of the child and recorded only one response, while other surveys asked for and recorded the most frequently used, as well as several less frequently used, forms of care for each child.
All of this variation has made the surveys' results difficult to compare and of limited use to policymakers. Researchers have recently turned their attention to resolving some of the issues of measurement, and one of the more recent surveys, the 1990 NCCS, is generally conceded to be the best example of well-designed data collection. The next section of this article briefly summarizes results from the earlier surveys and presents data from the 1990 NCCS, as well as its very similar successor, the 1995 SIPP.