Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Social Work

First Advisor

Jean East, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Daniel Brisson

Third Advisor

Nicole N. Nicotera

Fourth Advisor

Susan Manning


Child care, Cliff effect, Financially vulnerable families, Income packaging


For many families child care is a necessity for economic self sufficiency, as without it caretakers cannot enter and stay in the workforce. However, for many low-income families childcare expenses are so high that they often cannot afford it without government support. The focus of this study was to understand how families make decisions about childcare in relation to government support. Of specific interest are low-income families who receive the government supported child care subsidy in Colorado known as the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).

CCCAP is a part of work support benefits that are provided by the State to support families to move to self-sufficiency through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act enacted in 1996. Problematic however, is that work supports are incrementally lost as a family's income increases but often before sufficient income can be sustained to replace that support. This phenomenon, termed the "cliff effect", was aptly named as losing benefits can be like falling off a cliff.

A mixed-methods study was conducted in four Colorado counties. In Phase I, 332 families who, at the time of the study, were currently or in the past two years on CCCAP, participated in a survey distributed at childcare facilities. In Phase II, 21 one-on-one interviews were conducted with families who had experienced the cliff effect. In addition, meetings with a group of low-income families, childcare providers, and other local experts were conducted to inform both the study design and findings.

The study revealed that families use a combination of resources to make up their income package which they need to manage everyday survival, including government benefits, wages, and social supports. While the cliff effect is a significant barrier to moving from government supports to self sufficiency, there are multiple other circumstances that add to the very real reasons that women have to carefully strategize to survive, consistently on the edge of losing work support benefits. The most helpful things for families in strategizing around CCCAP were a flexible job and solid social supports.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Susan J. Roll


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

171 p.


Social work