Campaign focuses on lack of providers
By Holly Riddle
Sarah McChesney is a social work case manager at a nonprofit and a single mother who hit a wall in what she could afford to pay for child care. A resident of northern Clinton County, McChesney said she’s struggled in the past to find affordable and trustworthy child care for her 2-year-old son.
“My son is the first experience I had when it came to daycare,” she said. “It was extremely difficult to find an in-home, certified daycare who had openings for infants. When I found Busy Bee’s [Daycare], I was elated, but initially could not afford it, even though it was the cheapest [option] in my area. I am a single mother on a very fixed income and $160 a week was and is still hard to swing financially,” she said.
After attempting to have her niece watch her son at a much cheaper price, she decided to go the professional route and “figure out how to pay for it,” she said. “I don’t think the price is unreasonable, but just not affordable on the wages most of us earn.”
The Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance, an Adirondack Foundation program, recently launched Stand Up for Child Care Adirondacks, an initiative aimed at shedding light on the region’s child care crisis and stories like McChesney’s. Launched in mid-January, the initiative asks state legislators to expand child care subsidy funding for the region via the Workforce Development Institute’s Facilitated Enrollment Program.
According to Sara Allen Taylor, project director at the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, who appears in the initiative’s video, the Adirondack are part of what’s known as a child care desert, where there are more children who need child care than there are available slots at child care providers.
Child care desert
In 2019, Allen Taylor and her team conducted a study on child care deserts in the North Country, looking at Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties. They found that 86% of census tracts in the region are considered child care deserts
“We have been losing programs in the North Country region,” Allen Taylor said. “A lot of the home providers in the North Country have been doing this for a while and have come to the age that they’re considering retiring or they realize they can make more money seeking a different type of career. The major problem is, whether you’re at home or in a center, there’s only so much money you can charge a family to leave their child in full-time care, and it’s more than most of the families in our region can afford to actually pay.”
McChesney wishes this wasn’t the case and that providers could make a fair wage, as well. “The child care providers deserve much more, as they are caring for our most precious jewels. They are between a rock and hard spot, as well, to make an affordable living,” she said. “I hope and pray that New York State will hear our cries for help and desperation when it comes to finding, obtaining and maintaining daycare.”
Between a rock and a hard place
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, the issue was only exacerbated, making the 2021 roll out of the Stand Up for Child Care Adirondacks campaign even more necessary.
“We were already expecting a really high rate of attrition with these providers retiring or making low wages,” said Allen Taylor. “Then COVID happened, the world shut down and everyone was sent home with their kids, and in order to now come back from that, we have a higher number of children who suddenly need childcare at a time when these school-aged children who can’t watch themselves independently are not in the school building anymore during the day. That greatly increased the number of children who need to be in care and increased the stress on families who weren’t paying for childcare while their children were in school, and suddenly they have the need for that. If you were barely making ends meet, and you were able to work while your kid was in school, you just lost that. It all fell apart.”
Currently, the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance reports, child care is the top basic living expense for families, ranking above housing, food and transportation. According to the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country’s child care desert report, depending on where a family is located in the region, the cost of child care for an infant can range from $7,280 per year per child to $9,900 per year per child. Per-year costs for each toddler or preschool-aged child are only slightly less.
Sylvie Nelson, executive director at the North Country Workforce Development Board, which operates OneWorkSource Centers in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton counties, has witnessed first-hand the direct impact the North Country child care crisis has had on job-seekers, employers and, as a result, the economy.
“From our perspective, child care is economic development. Obviously, if parents do not have quality and affordable child care, they cannot enter the workplace. So that penalizes our employers who are looking for a workforce,” she said.
The issue is an all-encompassing one that, she explains, impacts not only families and employers, but child care providers as well, many of whom are part of what United Way considers ALICE households (an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), or households that earn above the federal poverty level, but that still struggle to meet basic needs.
“For the child care provider, their costs keep on rising. The cost of food is up. The cost of energy to heat the buildings is up. Salaries need to go up; these people, though passionate about what they do, are still earning a living and they have to make ends meet. One of the things we’ve found is that there are quite a number of child care providers who need a second income. They fall into the ALICE category. The system, the way it’s designed, is not sustainable,” Nelson said.
“If parents were making a living wage, they could afford the child care, but they’re not… It’s a collision of everything and COVID really brought that out. It’s a good thing that we’re now having these conversations.”— Sylvie Nelson, executive director at the North Country Workforce Development Board
Help could be coming
If the Stand Up for Child Care Adirondacks initiative is successful in securing $1.5 million additional funds for the Workforce Development Institute’s Facilitated Enrollment Program, the resulting child care subsidies for families could allow more parents to pay for child care and more child care providers to open additional slots for children
Allen Taylor estimates the amount would serve at least 150 families (or individual children) over one year. In practice the number could vary based on the differing costs.
Some parents can already speak to the help subsidies can provide. McChesney, the single mom and Nichole Christian are both recipients of the CARES Child Care Tuition Scholarship for Essential Workers. This New York State initiative provides eligible essential workers not working from home with free child care during the pandemic. Christian related a difficult experience finding child care for her 9-year-old and 2-year-old daughters in Clinton County. She called the process “discouraging” as she juggles multiple providers to ensure her children are cared for each work day.
“I have never ran into more issues with [child care] providers and days off with the school until moving into [the region],” she says. “It’s extremely heartbreaking to see a system that’s not trying to help families that are struggling … and that want to work. It seems like a system that wants you to stay home.”
“Being a recipient of this tuition has been a godsend,” she said. “These last 12 weeks, I would have not been able to keep my job. I have been there almost nine years and I would have had to quit… My children had a Christmas and a roof over their heads because of this scholarship.”
Allen Taylor hopes the desired subsidy funds will provide immediate relief to families like those currently receiving the CARES assistance.
“The biggest thing is that we recognize how important this investment is. It’s for our economy, it’s for our communities, it’s for our businesses, it’s for our families, it’s for our future. We’re not just talking about trying to ‘help out moms.’ We’re keeping our whole community running for the long-term,
Learn more about the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance’s Sand Up for Child Care Adirondacks initiative at https://www.adirondackbt3.org/resources/stand-child-care.