Family Perspectives on Services in Palm Beach County

To be effective, program policies and practices need to be grounded in the circumstances of the low-income families they are intended to serve. Based largely on an analysis of six waves of qualitative data, this brief examines the factors that influence families’ participation in services.

What we did

We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 50 mothers of young children participating in a longitudinal study of service use and its effects on family functioning and children’s development and school readiness. Guided by an ecocultural framework, we looked at barriers and facilitators to service use within and across families and within and across service areas including health care, income supplements, social services, and child care.

What we found

Families’ decisions to apply for and use services were shaped by a host of factors. These factors included:

  • Individual characteristics: language, transportation, attitudes, social networks, economic stability, and past program experiences
  • Program characteristics: intake, waiting time
  • Provider characteristics: behavior, cultural competency, communication style
  • Neighborhood characteristics: transportation, social networks, safety

The importance of these factors varied from one service area to another. Mothers’ decisions to use or not use child care were shaped by parenting beliefs as well as need for child care and the choices available to them. On the other hand, use of health care or food programs was influenced more by need than by personal beliefs or ease of application.

What it means

Families need help to stay involved in or become reconnected to services over time as their needs change. To have a larger impact, programs and policies need to recognize the changing circumstances of low-income families and help support their stability.

The locations of program offices, their hours, and waiting times are often inconvenient for families, especially if they have transportation or childcare problems. Organizations need to consider the effect of timing and location on the families they serve.

Recommended Citation
Spielberger, J. & Gouvêa, M. (2012). Supporting low-income families with young children: Barriers to and facilitators of service use. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
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