The demand for good-quality and affordable child care has increased in the wake of welfare reform, as many low-income families have entered the workforce and confronted difficulties arranging, paying for and sustaining the continuity of child care. Infant-toddler child care is scarce in most communities across the state, particularly in low-income communities. It is also expensive. Even with the increased availability of child care subsidies, many low-income families face difficulties paying for care. And, although the quality of child care can be a critical influence on the well being of infants and toddlers, finding good-quality infant-toddler child care can be especially challenging for low-income families. Low-income families face many barriers in finding and maintaining adequate child care, which affects their employment.
The problems facing welfare families as they arrange child care-low wages, nonstandard hours or changing hours, and inflexible schedules-also confront working poor families who do not receive welfare. "Three features of child care appear to influence the employment of low-income parents: (1) the availability of child care, because young children cannot be left unsupervised; (2) the cost of child care, which makes employment less attractive because the earnings are effectively reduced by the cost of care; and (3) the quality of the available care." (Kicker and Ross 102) Limited choices due to cost or location constraints lead to low-income families settling on poorer quality child care arrangements. Consistent with their limited range of child care options, poor single mothers are less satisfied with the child care they use than other mothers. Parents and professionals have advanced various definitions of quality, but most stress that high-caliber programs ensure that children are safe, healthy and appropriately stimulated. Good programs provide responsive care by consistent, well-qualified caregivers, allowing the children to form secure attachments to nurturing adults. They offer engaging, appropriate activities for young children in settings that aid healthy growth.
Quality child care also takes into account the strengths and needs of the families and communities. Poor parents may define a threshold for the quality of their children's child care arrangements in terms of a basic level of safety and trustworthiness, and discontinue their work-related activities if they cannot find and maintain arrangements that they believe exceeds their threshold. According to the article "Welfare to Work: Analysis and Recommendations", research on the quality of child care in the United States indicates that parents' fears are not unfounded: some 12% of the centers and 25% of private homes caring for children were judged by researchers to be inadequate and even harmful to children. (Larger, Terman, B ehrman 11-12) The fears of mothers with infants are especially intense, since their babies cannot complain if they are mistreated during the day.
Quality of care may influence employment in several ways: parents may be reluctant to leave their child in a low-quality, unsafe environment or with adults who do not provide a stimulating environment for their child. This may be a particular problem for lower-income families, who have more limited choices of providers. In contrast, a safe, warm, stimulating environment may encourage employment and longer hours of work. Parents may also become more effective employees if they do not have concerns about the environment in which their children spend a good part of each working day.
Having well cared-for children may also lead to employees with higher productivity than those whose children are left in less satisfactory environments. Parents would be more likely to be on time to work and less likely to miss time from work. "In the words of John DeShano, President, Levi Strauss & Co (Canada) Inc. , 'Today's workers are raising tomorrow's work force. But the responsibility for equipping young people with the skills and knowledge they need to build productive, independent lives should not be born by parents alone. All of us - businesses, government, educators and the community - must share the commitment.
For in today's' intensively competitive market place - where knowledge and creativity are the engines of economic growth - we all have a direct stake in the education and development of our children.' " (Pruissen) "The desired outcome of the child care policy of the state of Kansas is that families be able to fulfill their roles as primary child care givers and education of young children by having access to high-quality, affordable child care." (Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services) The following principles shall guide the development and implementation of state policy to achieve that outcome. A stable source of child care is a critical ingredient to families' economic self-sufficiency. Child care policies must smooth the progress into the workforce for parents and a rich and stable environment for children. Child care is a critical investment that affects a child's readiness to learn. Policies and programs must be responsive to the changing needs of families and educate them about available options, identifying quality programs and selecting appropriate care. High quality care must be available to any family seeking care regardless of where the family lives of the special needs of the child and must be available on a sliding scale basis, with families contributing based on ability to pay.
There is an insufficient supply of available child care slots in low-income neighborhoods, which contributes to long waiting lists. There is a short supply of child care providers who satisfy the need for part time hours only or nontraditional hours that are typically between the hours of 6 p. m. and 6 a.
m. , care for sick children or care for children with special needs. Many low-income parents lack paid family and medical leave that they can use for a sick child. Sick child care is critical for supporting employment. Kid Kare, which was a program sponsored by Via Christi Regional Medical Center - St. Francis that provides day care to sick children who are too ill to attend regular day care or go to school, has closed their doors as of October 31, 2002.
"Via Christi has determined that it is no longer economically feasible to continue offering this service", said Roz Hutchinson. Many low-income families rely on relatives to provide child care due to limited choices due to cost and location constraints. Cost is also a major concern when choosing quality child care. Without access to subsidies, they cannot afford to pay for regulated care, which places a substantial financial burden on working families.
Many good-quality child care centers do not accept a state child care subsidy, which limits the choices to low income parents. Child care expenses are often the second or third largest item in a low-income family's household budget. According to The State of America's Children "At annual costs ranging from $3, 000 to $8, 000 a year per child for a four-year old in urban child care centers and comparable costs for children elsewhere, child care is financially burdensome for most families." According to Kansas Kids Count Book of 2002, "30 percent of the children between the ages of 3-4 are living below the poverty line in Sedgwick County" and "child care availability rate for children under the age of 13 is 25. 3 percent." Lack of sufficient information about availability and value of specific child care arrangements presents a problem for low-income families. Language barriers prevent some families from accessing consumer information. Information regarding child care options and subsidies to pay for them can be difficult for parents to obtain due to many families are not aware that the Child Care Association of Wichita - Sedgwick County exists and is there to assist families in finding child care.
Kansas faces constraints in providing adequate consumer education, including large caseloads, long waiting lists, and reliance on printed materials. According to the Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), "average number of children assisted on a monthly basis was 15, 312" through the child care Subsidy Program. Much research has been done on the quality of child care and the outcomes. However additional work is needed because there is little doubt that the quality of child care needs improving. State legislators, agencies, and organizations need to consider the following to move forward in improving the quality. Providing support for new family child care providers and child care center by offering start up grants or loans to child care providers to increase the supply of regulated child care.
Recruit and train new child care providers and guide them through the licensing process. Setting up a revolving loan fund to provide low-cost, short-term loans to help cover the cost of minor renovations in child care facilities and small-group day care homes or for the development of new child care facilities. Set up a system of tiered reimbursement to promote increases in certain types of care such as during nonstandard hours or for part time hours. Under these systems, set higher rate ceilings for specific types of care that is more expensive to provide and that are often in short supply such as evening care. For example, the city could provide an incentive of 10 percent more for evening care and 15 percent for care provided overnight, on weekends and during holidays.
These are solutions to the issue of insufficient supply. To address the issue of the cost, state legislators and the community need to get involved. State legislators need to investigate the income guidelines that are used to qualify low-income families for The Child Care Subsidy Program that provides subsidized child care to a diverse set of families. Currently a family must be "185% below the federal poverty level" to qualify for assistance. For a family of four this equates to an annual income of $32, 653, which averages approximately $2, 721 before taxes. Social and Rehabilitation Services does not take into account the amount of your living expenses in addition to the cost of child care.
The lack of good-quality child care continues to be a critical issue for this community. Training is one of the most common strategies for enhancing the quality. Provide ongoing training on quality and safety issues to licensed child care providers. Provide training workshops to neighbor and relative caregivers on such topics as child development, working with families and parents, and health and safety issues. Provide neighbor and relative caregivers with support networks to improve the quality of care they provide. The improvement of the quality of child care can be accomplished with these policy changes.
Strengthening standards and regulations for child care and programs by setting standards for quality caregiving, monitor the extent to which quality caregiving exists, and provide incentives and consequences for meeting these standards. Require initial and ongoing training for staff working in child care programs. Recruit and retain more highly educated and skilled staff with higher wages, benefits, and improved working conditions. Inform parents about the importance of quality child care and its effects on children.
Identify ways to support the cost of higher quality child care which will require more money. State legislators, advocacy groups, providers and consumers need to work together to develop a package of incentives and supports that make high quality attractive to providers and consumers alike and create the conditions so that quality is affordable. When people say they have a problem finding reliable child care, they may mean they have a problem finding quality care at a price they are willing or able to pay. Poor mother are often unable to pay for child care in order to look for work.
Many young mothers who are not employed have difficulty obtaining child care which is the major reason they are unable to enter the workforce. Paying for child care is not a realistic long-term option for most poor families, and this has restricted child care that is available to them. This implies a "catch-22" situation: with out child care, they can not look for work and without work they can not pay for child care. Changes to the nation's welfare system enacted under the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, have ushered more mothers into the workforce in recent years.
As increasing numbers of women have moved by necessity of choice into the workforce, the need for affordable high-quality child care has become critical. Unfortunately, this need goes unmet and each week countless numbers of children spend time in inadequate, or even dangerous, child care settings. Works Cited Children's Defense Fund. The State of America's Children.
Beacon Press. 1999 Hutchinson, Roz. Personal Interview. 29 Nov.
2002 Kansas Action for Children and The University of Kansas - School of Social Welfare. Kansas Kids Count. 2001.