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The Commonwealth Fund Survey of Parents with Young Children


The Commonwealth Fund Survey of Parents with Young Children brings into sharp relief the pressures and concerns that parents face today in guiding their children through the critical first three years of life.

The recently released survey of more than 2,000 mothers and fathers with children under the age of three finds that parents, hard-pressed for time and money, are struggling to find the best way to help their children grow and thrive. Parents are eager for guidance, and look to physicians for expert information. Doctors, however, are missing opportunities to encourage healthy practices, detect and treat maternal depression, and provide information and services to help parents navigate the stages of development in early childhood.

Results show that we have a health care system out of tune with the needs of today's parents--short hospital stays, little follow-up home care, and a hit-or-miss approach in providing developmental guidance to parents as part of well-baby care.

Parents also report that government programs are providing a vital helping hand. Yet an alarming percentage of low and moderate income families are still facing difficulties in meeting the basic needs of their children for such items as diapers and food. Much more could be done to support families in fulfilling their most important responsibility of helping their children become healthy and productive adults. Most fundamentally, we as Americans must come to view all children as our children--deserving and needing our support.

Parents Report on Rearing Infants and Toddlers

  • Half of mothers who deliver vaginally are discharged in one day or less, and 21 percent who deliver by C-section are discharged in two days or less.
  • One-third of parents whose newborn is discharged after one day feel their child spent too little time in the hospital.
  • Home visits are infrequent, with only 20 percent of new parents reporting a visit.
  • Mothers are much more likely to breast-feed when encouraged to do so by their doctors or nurses (74% v. 45%).
  • Only 39 percent of parents read or look at a picture book with their child at least once a day. Parents who discuss with their physician how to help their child learn are more likely to read to their child.
  • Parents receiving special pediatric services such as telephone advice lines and nurse home visits are more likely to rate their doctor as excellent on quality of care.
  • One-third of children in families with incomes under $40,000 have parents who have difficulty in paying for basic baby needs such as food and diapers.
  • Forty-seven percent of children have parents who have received government aid such as cash assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid at some point since the birth of their child.

Publication Details



The Commonwealth Fund Survey of Parents with Young Children, Kathryn Taaffe Young, Karen Davis, and Cathy Schoen, The Commonwealth Fund, August 1996