The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, December 05, 2021 1:00 am

Coping with the CARE CRISIS

Any serious examination of the current worker shortage identifies child care as a factor keeping employees out of the workplace. Early Learning Indiana examined access to quality child care and early learning programs for an August report, finding stark differences from community to community. Northeast Indiana is no exception, with varying degrees of access, quality, affordability and choice across the region.

Community leaders in education,  early learning and disability rights address the current crisis for an overview of local challenges.

EDUCATION

“Who is going to take care of my baby if I have to come to campus twice per week?”

This was a question that came up recently as we discussed course delivery methods with a focus group of students. It illustrates a simple question with a complex solution.

The majority of Ivy Tech Fort Wayne students are working adults, many of them single parents with little community capital. So for them, the struggle to find quality child care centers that meet their needs is a daily challenge. They specifically struggle to find what working students really need – flexible, affordable care that allows them to drop in as their busy, often-changing schedule dictates.

The ripple effects of this are felt across our community.

When students cannot find steady, affordable, flexible child care, they are forced to choose between school and caring for their children. That's an obvious choice for any of us. But when they sacrifice school, they drastically limit their access to the steady, high-wage jobs our community needs to move our economy forward.

As an institution of higher education and the primary engine for the state's future workforce, Ivy Tech strives to provide access to quality child care for our students through partnerships in the community and an on-campus early learning center through our Early Childhood program. But it is not enough.

Our students need part-time, drop-in and flexible options they can afford. We need our entire community – including businesses struggling with staffing – to come together, pool our resources and address this critical challenge so many of our students face as they pave pathways to brighter futures.

DISABILITY RIGHTS

Since before COVID, we have seen annual decreases in the number of child care providers accepting children with disabilities.

When child care programs have waiting lists for clients, they are less likely to take the child who takes longer to feed because of swallowing difficulties. That child may not be able to move out of the toddler room because they are still wearing a diaper at 3 or even 4 years old. If language is delayed, the needs of a child who uses only limited signs or nonverbal cues may not be easily recognized in a room of toddlers or preschoolers.

Often, the initial provider may withdraw.

It may be several months until the infant with low muscle tone receives a more complex diagnosis. Deafness may not be diagnosed in an infant but rather as the child ages. The medical needs of a premature infant may evolve into more complex ones as repeated developmental milestones are missed.

Too many parents of children with disabilities have little choice than to sacrifice a career.

A two-income family may need to adjust to a single income.

A job relocation may be turned down for fear of jeopardizing the security of current stable child care from a nearby family member.

Many working parents make sacrifices. For the parent of a child with a disability, that is three times as likely.

With limited providers, the family with a child with disabilities is more likely to have to drive longer distances to their care center. Job advancement may be declined because longer or different work hours would extend beyond the available hours or relocation makes the commute untenable.

Families who have a member with a disability have, on average, 28% higher expenses than those without. There are limited alternatives other than job loss when that family loses its child care provider. “Driving parents out of the workforce will likely exacerbate economic inequalities between families of disabled and nondisabled individuals,” reports the National Council on Disabilities.

Quality child care for children of all abilities benefits all. Children benefit from early-intervention services that can be provided at inclusive centers such as at Turnstone or Pathfinders Kids Campus. With accessible quality child care, parents can pursue meaningful career opportunities, stable employment and greater financial security.

Families of children with disabilities need access to quality, stable and reliable integrated child care services.

EARLY LEARNING

The topic of child care and early learning has become a key factor in business sustainability, affecting economic progress for every community across the country.

The spotlight is on child care, as it is one of the top factors in getting businesses back on track.

Therefore, it's not a surprise that many businesses are compelled to address child care challenges for their workforces when faced with the inability to retain or recruit employees.

These business challenges are more about the work/life balance needs of the workforce and not necessarily compensation.

There is a wave of financial support opportunities for child care programs: More than $1 billion has been made available in federal stimulus funding through the American Rescue Plan's Build Back Better Act.

However, funding support alone will not solve the challenges of our child care system.

The child care crisis needs to be publicly addressed by consumer families, many of whom cannot afford high-quality child care; child care professionals, who feel the need to disregard their passion for higher-paying career options; legislators, who hold the power to properly recognize child care/early learning as the foundation for K-12 education; employers, many of which have employees in need of reliable child care for their children; and business membership organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, community foundations and the United Way.

Child care and early learning is in a state of crisis, but we can change the course by embracing the challenges in front of us.

With a collective approach, we should design an effective plan to strengthen our child care system. We can start with resetting the purpose and definition of early learning as the foundation of school readiness. We need to set high standards and stronger licensing requirements for those accepting public funding. We need to provide intentional funding for vulnerable families.

We need to expand and improve the talent pipeline while creating a substitute teacher pool, much like school systems have. We need to align the compensation of early educators with that of K-12, teachers, incentivizing career transitions from early education to K-5 and vice versa.

There's momentum now, and I strongly encourage everyone to become an army of advocates and let their voices be heard.

Child care and early learning is an economic issue that provides support for the current workforce while investing and strengthening our future workforce.

By the numbers

41% of women in Allen County have caregiving responsibilities for a person living in their home, with 47% of those children age 5-18, 27% younger than 5 and 7% an adult child with disabilities

59% of women with caregiving responsibilities indicated that access to child care affected their employment

15% of women with caregiving responsibilities reported having to leave the workforce (pre- COVID) as a result of those responsibilities

33% of women in the workforce reported having no paid time off available for caregiving responsibilities (only 8% said they have Family and Medical Leave Act access)

37% paid less than $100 a week, 37% paid between $100 and $200, 9% between $200 and $300, 9% more than $300 (Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee lists the average cost of full-time high quality child care in Allen County at about $150 a week per child)

177 number of licensed home child cares in Allen County as of Jan. 1, 2020. There were also 35 licensed centers and 47 unlicensed registered ministry centers in Allen County. Regarding capacity, 62% rests with licensed centers and 37.4 % at licensed homes (ministry centers don't report capacity).

Source: “Allen County Women and Girls Fund Study,” prepared by the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne for the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, August 2020


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