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Say what you mean and mean what you say: Terminology agnosticism in child care questionnaires

A key lesson from the Design Study of the National Survey of Early Care and Education (hereafter, the "Design Study") is that child care survey data and analyses can be improved by stepping away from terminology which may have unclear or multiple meanings to different audiences. Rather than attempt to impose definitions or coin new jargon, the Design Study team tried to avoid field-specific terms in our questionnaires wherever possible. 'Terminology agnosticism' as we've described it, is advisable in most survey contexts where non-technical participants may be involved, but has particular applications in the child care survey literature, which has often relied on a vocabulary that is not consistently interpreted by parents, providers or researchers. Drawing on a literature review, cognitive testing, and feasibility testing completed for the Design Study, this Brief discusses three topical areas where terminology has often been used, but where we recommend jargon-free alternatives. For each, we offer evidence that the traditional terminology can be unclear, as well as suggestions for plainly-worded questions that capture the constructs without facing the same challenges of interpretation. These topics are: the mode of child care (e.g., family day care or child care center); the provision of home-based care that is privately arranged with friends, family members, and neighbors (commonly referred to as family, friend and neighbor care); and payment of fees and receipt of subsidies. We close with general guidelines for identifying technical terminology and developing alternative wording for child care surveys. Considering the range of policies that may be informed by household survey data, these guidelines offer the opportunity to improve the quality of data available for decision-making in areas such as child care subsidies, quality rating and improvement systems, and the development of integrated early learning systems. (author abstract)
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