Childcare Challenges

The “Workforce Behind the Workforce”

By Becky Gillette

The first obligation of parents is to make sure their children are taken care of. But when parents have to choose between taking care of their children and holding down a full-time job, no one—including employers in a tight labor market—benefits.

“Without access to reliable childcare, parents don’t just lack a necessary support to be able to work or go to school to better themselves,” says Chad Allgood, PhD, co-Director, Division for Early Childhood Care and Development (DECCD), Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS). “Consistent childcare services contribute to better overall health and wellbeing of their children, not to mention, setting their children up to be more successful later in life.”

Chad Allgood

Almost one-third of parents who pay for childcare say that it has caused a “financial problem,” according to a study from NPR, Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And when a parent is trying to head back to work for the first time in a while, childcare can be an even more daunting challenge. 

“It is expensive in almost any case, but it is even harder to foot the bill if the parent has not had a steady source of income,” says Allgood. “Even with a job, families will often find that professional child care is out of reach. Infant childcare can cost $10,000 a year on average, which is just under twenty percent of the median family income of $55,000. With costs like that, families must depend on relatives or friends who may have unreliable schedules or limit themselves only to the jobs with the most flexible hours. Once a working parent has secured a job, there’s no guarantee childcare will not re-emerge as an issue that threatens their job security. Lower income parents are even more likely to see their jobs affected.”

Early childhood learning is more important than was realized in previous generations. The first five years of a child’s life are the most important in their development and preparing them for lifelong learning and success. Allgood says quality childcare in today’s society is a critical piece in caring for children and setting them up for success as they continue to grow, learn, and develop. 

“For parents, childcare is essential employment support and a huge part of their children’s early education,” says Allgood. “Economic studies have clearly shown the benefit of quality early childhood education not only for today’s workforce, but also in preparing the workforce tomorrow. It’s good policy that parents with young children need access to childcare in order to obtain and retain a job, which makes child care providers a vital part of local and state economies.”

Allgood says the childcare industry is sometimes referred to as the workforce behind the workforce. Without affordable, quality childcare, parents are unable to go to work or school. “The pandemic has really highlighted this predicament,” says Allgood. “Absent childcare, nurses, teachers, police officers, restaurant workers, etc., could not go to work.” 

MDHS works to address the dual purposes of promoting children’s healthy development and school success while also supporting parents who are working, in training, or pursuing education. Vicki Lowery, co-director, DECCD, says the  MDHS’s Child Care Payment Program (CCPP) is designed to provide childcare assistance to qualifying parents and guardians by offering a seamless system of high-quality childcare through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) subsidy program. The CCDF provides federal funds to subsidize the cost of child care for low-income families who are engaged in work, education, or job training and who have children under the age of thirteen or children under age nineteen who have special needs. 

Vicki Lowery

“By covering that cost, these families are able to access consistent childcare which affords them care for their children during the work or school day,” says Lowery. “The CCPP also helps to ensure their children are in a safe, educational environment when the children can’t be with their parents.”

For more information please visit: https://www.mdhs.ms.gov/early-childhood-care-development/child-care-certificate-program/  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, MDHS has put several programs in place to help sustain childcare programs during periods when enrollment has been low. These programs include paying all childcare providers based on enrollment numbers rather than attendance, covering all co-payments for parents during this period, and paying childcare providers a twenty-five percent premium reimbursement rate. 

 Lowery says applicants must complete a CCPP application form. The parent(s) must be working at least twenty-five hours per week, be enrolled full-time in an educational program or engaged in an approved job training program, or a combination of both. Their income must be below eighty-five percent of the state median income. 

The childcare industry itself (which includes childcare centers and home-based childcare providers) has an estimated overall economic impact of $99.3 billion – supporting over two million jobs throughout the country. 

“There is a strong correlation between child care and state and local economic growth and development,” says Allgood. “And, the child care industry causes spillover effects (additional economic activity like the purchase of goods and services and job creation or support within the community) beyond those employed within childcare or the business income of those operating centers or home-based programs.” 

MDHS is also giving large-scale grants, through a program called Child Care Strong, to help further stabilize the childcare industry in Mississippi. Child Care Strong grants are being offered to childcare providers as a part of the American Rescue Plan and are designed to help with operating expenses for a period of six months.  Any childcare provider who is licensed or registered by the Mississippi State Department of Health by March 11, 2021 was eligible. For more information please visit:  https://www.mdhs.ms.gov/early-childhood-care-development/child-care-strong/. The grants are designed to help stabilize Mississippi’s childcare industry so it may continue to serve Mississippi’s families.