Kimberly Morgan, CEO, United Way of Western Connecticut
When a parent loses income, child care subsidies are not always readily available. Recently I heard about the crisis that Martha, a parent whose 3-year-old daughter attends one of United Way’s funded licensed centers, was facing. A single mother, she works as a housekeeper, and found she had a large ovarian tumor; surgery was going put her out of work for weeks. Martha was uninsured and would have no income. On top of that, she faced the dilemma of where her daughter, Nicole, would go while she was recuperating. Child care subsidies only help actively working parents. The Center would be unable to keep Nicole without financial support despite their love and concern for Martha and Nicole.
Child care costs can be substantial even for affluent parents, but for parents like Martha who struggle financially even when they are not facing a debilitating medical issue, child care and its associated costs can take on crisis proportions.
A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute places Connecticut near the top of the list—number five—for the highest child care costs in the nation. The statistics are sobering but come as no surprise to those of us who are talking every day with families like Martha’s that struggle to pay the bills.
The most compelling data points of the analysis are worth highlighting:
- The cost of infant care in Connecticut is $3,146 (25.5%) more per year than in-state tuition at a four-year public college
- The average annual cost of infant care is $15,501 or $1,292 per month.
- Infant care for one child takes up 18.3% of a median family’s income. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is considered affordable only if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income
- Despite the high cost of care, across the nation, child care workers’ families are twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers.
For a complete look at the data, go to https://www.epi.org/child-care-costs-in-the-united-states/#/CT
What is most frightening about these statistics is that parents, in their desperation to work to keep a roof over their heads and food in the fridge, may be resorting to lower-cost child care--care that may at the least be developmentally unsound and at the worst may be unsafe. The consequences of such care can have lifelong detrimental effects on a child’s ability to learn and thrive.
At United Way of Western Connecticut, we are taking action to make sure all children are in safe, developmentally appropriate care so their parents can have peace of mind while they work, and so children will reach their full potential.
These initiatives show that by working together, and thinking creatively, we can address the challenges of the high cost of child care in ways that benefit families financially while ensuring the brightest possible future for children.
Here’s how we’re addressing the challenges:
Subsidized care in licensed centers. Last year, 1,483 infants and preschoolers received subsidized care in our region, thanks in part to United Way funding; 2,855 children received subsidized after-school care. These subsidies made it more affordable for low-income families to send their children to quality care in licensed centers. The centers may use the funds to provide care to children in families that struggle every day—or to children whose families are facing difficulties, such as unemployment or medical emergencies. To support this initiative, click here.
Increasing the Number of Licensed Home Child Care Providers in Danbury. In January of 2018, United Way launched Cora’s Kids, an innovative initiative to expand the number of licensed Family Child Care homes in Danbury. The program focuses on helping people who want to become home providers start their own child care businesses while improving the quality of care and keeping costs to parents affordable. To date, there are 9 new providers with 42 new child care spots in Danbury. Sixteen new providers are in process. To support this initiative, click here.
Focus on Infant Health and Development through Stamford Cradle to Career. United Way provides backbone support to this initiative. Key components of its work focus on infant health and development, and quality of care, so that children are ready for success in kindergarten. Stamford Cradle to Career is coordinating efforts to increase the number of parents and childcare providers who use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), a nationally recognized screening tool for infants and toddlers that assists in identifying developmental delays and provides parents with creative ideas for activities to do with their children to support development. Additionally, Stamford Cradle to Career helped launch a city-wide public relations campaign, Go Before You Show, to encourage pregnant women to seek prenatal care in their first trimester of pregnancy. To support this initiative, click here.
Funding Stamford Public Education Foundation’s “Summer Start Program.” This program serves children who have no formal prior preschool experience, giving them the tools they need to start kindergarten on a more level playing field with children who have benefited from exposure to early literacy and math skills. It also prepares them by familiarizing them with classroom procedures (such as lining up, raising hands, etc.). The outcomes over the past few summers for children in this program have been notable, as the exposure to the school environment assists in preparing children for the kindergarten classroom on day one. Thanks to support from United Way and other private funders in Stamford, Summer Start served 100 children this summer.
Recognizing Child Care as a Barrier to Employment. United Way provides backbone support to DanburyWORKS, a city-wide collaborative focused on helping the 50% of Danbury households that struggle to make ends meet. Affordable, quality child care was recognized as a barrier to employment and is one of the three key pillars of the first phase of its work. To support this initiative, click here.
A Happier Ending
Through initiatives like those described above, United Way is hoping to give parents who struggle to pay for child care better options while also promoting awareness of the importance of high-quality care for child development.
Fortunately, Martha’s story has a happy ending. With the help of United Way funding, the center was able to keep Nicole in their care during Martha’s medical emergency. Martha had peace of mind knowing that her daughter would be safe and well cared for, allowing her to focus on her own health and recovery. Nicole received quality, developmentally appropriate care. Perhaps more importantly, she was able to remain in center she was comfortable in, seeing the same teachers and children every day, which provided her with the stability needed during a difficult time. Without that safety and stability, traumatic effects on Nicole could have had implications on her social and emotional state for years.
While Martha’s situation was difficult, the center also connected her with community resources, providing her with a lifeline of support. They assisted her with obtaining food for Thanksgiving and gifts for Nicole for the holidays. Without assistance from United Way, the family might have faced this emergency isolated and alone.
“Thankfully, the surgery found that the tumor was benign,” the center director reported. Martha made a full recovery and was able to return to work in a few months.
For more stories of how United Way programs have helped families with child care, go to https://unitedtoact.org/unitedwayofwesternct/