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Parents need affordable, flexible childcare options

 | Published on 11/6/2021

Meet ALICE — she needs help with childcare.

She’s Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed or she was employed until the pandemic shutdown. She’s heard the headlines about people who need to get back to work, but for her to go back to do so, she’ll need child care, something affordable, maybe with flexible hours, depending who hired her. She’s interviewed for restaurants and local factories. While hourly wages are slightly higher than before she was laid off, she’s struggling to find a sitter or daycare that can take her children when she’d be scheduled to serve at a local restaurant, or to watch her kids second or third shift.

ALICE, or at least one of every three women like her, is not returning to work, according to NPR. One of the reasons is the lack of access to or the ability to afford for childcare. She and her partner decided that he would work through the pandemic while she’d stay home with their kids because he makes more than her. On average, men are paid 23% more than women. Now that she is ready to rejoin the workforce she’ll spend about 12% of her earnings on daycare for their kids, which is better than the cost in Indianapolis, where a household like hers might spend 20% or more of its earnings on childcare. If she were a single parent, the loss of 12% of income would be far more steep. Child care is frightfully difficult for all the ALICES in either dual or single income households.

Child care shortages go way back in Montgomery County. In 2018, Chalkbeat profiled Mayor Todd Barton’s goal to frame childcare as a workforce issue, taking it to our largest employers, like Pace Dairy, LSC (now Lakeside) Communications and Penguin Random House. Perhaps, his approach suggested, they’d realize that finding great employees would be easier if they partnered with our community to solve the child care shortage. Early Learning Indiana studied child care across the state, and Montgomery County’s situation is one of the 10 worst. Not only is the cost-to-earnings ratio higher than the state average of 10%, we have too few spots for kids, too few high quality daycare programs, none available with flexible hours for second- or third-shift workers and far too few spots for infants and toddlers.The mayor found that the distant headquarters of those corporations created major hurdles in communicating the needs of Montgomery County.

In January 2020, the Montgomery County Community Fund sought and won funding for more high quality child care seats because the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee data showed our county ranked in the lowest ten for placing pre-K kids in high quality programs. Only 2% of our pre-K kids are in high quality daycare. Nationwide, 40% of kids are in daycare programs and 60% are in home daycares. Furthermore, Early Learning’s study estimated our state has more than 478,000 children under six whose parents work, but only about 24% are in licensed programs. The rest are going to a sitter, being cared for by unemployed family members, going to home daycares or parents are juggling shifts to care for their kids. All of those options place a great deal of strain on parents and children.

In Crawfordsville, quite a number of unlicensed child care arrangements exist, and many are far more affordable than a licensed program. For instance, Layla Myers pays her son’s caregiver about $80 a week. When she returned to work, Myers found it hard to find someone to care for an infant. Cathy Hutchinson has offered in-home care for three to five children at a time, and had a reputation as being involved, loving and great with developmental milestones. In contrast, licensed programs would cost Myers over $50 more a week. Other providers offer non-traditional hours. Some may hire one or two helpers, but few can offer educational programming associated with licensed, high quality centers. When those cost so much more, or don’t cover second or third shifts, they are a luxury to many families.

From birth to about five years old, children’s brains are sponges, building as many connections as they are exposed to. Healthy emotional relationships with caregivers are critical, but so are creative, literacy-rich activities. Children in literacy-rich environments, where caregivers talk to them, read to them, make eye-contact, and provide safe physical connection have much larger vocabularies, better emotional and social health, and have better educational and health outcomes over their lifetimes. 

All of those require training, materials and support for child care providers, which in turn costs money. Some families qualify for subsidies, but they can’t find seats in licensed centers. They turn to more affordable options.