Child Care and the Working Family

By Rachelle McKissick-Harris

(September 12, 2021) Child care has always been a never-ending battle for families because of availability and cost. There are not enough available spaces in homes and centers nor is the cost affordable. There is an even greater shortage of availability when trying to place infants and young toddlers. Even before the global pandemic, the cost was not affordable for working families. The average parent cost for in-center care for an infant and toddler ranged from $200 to $285 per week or approximately $1,000 per month. For parents to pay this price and supply the center with necessary formula/breastmilk, diapers, and wipes while still supplying these things at home, is simply not feasible.

For child care providers even with families paying these costs, they are not making a livable wage. Low wages have been affecting the child care market well before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, the staffing shortage is horrendous.

My heart hurts for families right now alongside my own. During the beginning of the pandemic, my position was terminated from a place where I was building my career. My income, along with my husband’s, kept our family stabilized. I was able to find new employment, but the pay and the benefits were not comparable to my previous employment, which included a small child care discount. With my new job, I kept our son enrolled in child care figuring out ways to cover the cost by sacrificing some of the other comforts for our family. When our budget could no longer maintain the necessities, I removed him from care. That choice, of course, made a shift to my workday. At this point, I needed to leave in the middle of my day to do two different pick-ups from schools. I would be in transit for nearly two hours daily. This began to put a strain on my employment which then added more stress to my pandemic stress and my stress over having young children who can’t be vaccinated. At this point, I sought new employment, but it still did not afford me to be able to enroll my child in child care for the fall.

We know early education is so important to the development of a child’s brain and so my four-year-old will be in school this fall. We are grateful for free preschool through the Great Start Readiness Program, yet with this program, there is no school on Fridays. This creates another problem for families, especially transplants to Grand Rapids who do not have family nearby to help fill in these gaps. To find a center with drop-in care is a dream! However, the cost of drop-in care or part-time care is either too expensive or requires a minimum commitment to two days a week.

I am trying to imagine what the child care world will look like in seven months or so when I give birth to my second child and will need to return to work after maternity leave. With there already being a shortage of teachers, and child care slots diminishing, what will families do? Will we be forced to lose employment to stay home with our children? Will I have to give up the career that I've worked hard for? Or, will the state and the country rise to the occasion and help support families and child care providers?

Child care is the key to getting parents back to work post-pandemic. Shifting the way we think about the child care provider industry is needed so that they too can make a living wage and support their families. Re-designing this system could reduce a tremendous amount of stress on families. We need to advocate for all those using this system because right now, it’s not working for anyone. We know that children thrive when they have access to early education and supports. We know parents can work when they don’t have to worry about who is taking care of their children. We know that the child care provider industry can thrive when their enrollment is full and employee wages are livable. Lastly, we know communities will thrive when there is adequate funding for child care.

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