More than one-quarter of families with children under the age of 5 have been unable to access child care, according to a recent national census study. Families with kids ages 5 to 11 have had a slightly better time, with 18% of families unable to access care.
The child care and school-aged care systems were stressed before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made the situation worse. Women have been disproportionately affected; they are more likely than fathers to report having felt a negative impact on their careers from from child care issues caused by the pandemic.
The NCSL webinar “Getting Women Back to Work: The Role of Child and School Aged Care” gave participants a chance to talk about these concerns and hear about potential solutions. Jennifer Palmer from NCSL’s Children and Families Program told the group that very low wages make nearly half of caregivers eligible for public assistance and lead to high turnover in the field, which employs predominantly women.
Very low wages make nearly half of caregivers eligible for public assistance. —Jennifer Palmer, NCSL
Legislators have been addressing these challenges by offsetting costs for families and providers, Palmer said. For families, costs may be offset by subsidies and tax credits, which are primarily federally funded and “really only serve about a fraction of the families that would be eligible.” For providers, states have taken several steps to boost the recruitment and retention of early child care educators. Examples include scholarships, student loan forgiveness and professional development opportunities.
States also support providers through wage supplements, which may include bonuses for employees who complete coursework or degree programs, and through grants to offset startup costs, to employ staff to help with the licensing or quality assurance process, or to invest in shared services for home-based providers. The pandemic-related increase in federal funding has given states the opportunity to do “more of the same—but a lot more,” Palmer said. She noted two new trends: First, more lawmakers are looking at how their states fund child care and evaluating the cost of providing high-quality care to more families; and, second, they’re using committees to study reimbursement rates for providers serving families with child care subsidies or to conduct cost-of-quality studies to identify the true cost of high-quality child care.
Takeaways From Oregon
Bridget Dazey of the Clackamas Workforce Partnership in Oregon cited three areas to focus on when it comes to child care needs. “There are families who need it but can’t afford it; there are providers who can barely make ends meet; and expanding is challenging due to facilities cost and other policies,” she said.
Dazey said the Clackamas partnership often works with the statewide nonprofit Oregon Afterschool and Summer for Kids Network, or OregonASK, which reports that only 19% of the state’s youth population participated in a structured summer experience in 2019. The Clackamas partnership wanted to increase those opportunities for youth within their communities by expanding their partnerships to include child care resources such as early learning hubs. The partnership also recently collaborated with business partners to publish a road map for employer-supported child care.
Dazey listed key takeaways for policymakers:
- Know the local workforce boards and the services they provide.
- Connect partnerships in early learning, afterschool and workforce development.
- Allow funding flexibility.
- Create more systems of accountability and reporting.
- Take care of everyone’s children.
To listen to the webinar and other past virtual meetings, please visit NCSL’s Legislative Video Resource Center.
Autumn Rivera is a policy associate with NCSL’s Education Program.