by Phil Yacuboski
Finding it tough to locate good, quality child care? You’re not alone. Pennsylvania is considered a “child care desert” when it comes to finding quality caregiving facilities, according to new information compiled by care.com, an online company focused on finding and managing quality family care.
“The issue isn’t only the availability of child care,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a statewide nonprofit advocate for children and family issues. “Children spend a great deal of time in child care. A child under the age of five can spend up to 50 hours a week in childcare and therefore, you want that to be high quality.”
Pennsylvania ranks third behind California and New York when it comes to the availability of too few licensed child care providers. Care.com estimates 59 percent of people live in a so-called “child care desert.”
However, that also means child care providers can find higher-than-average wages because they are in such demand.
“Right now in Pennsylvania, 70 percent of children live in a household where both parents are in the workforce,” said Benso. “They need child care. The absence of availability is a serious problem.”
It’s no secret that Pennsylvania is a rural state and a contributing factor to the issue.
“It’s a big challenge,” she said, “but if you look at high-quality child care either from the data, you see in a highly, densely populated area, you don’t find the needs for kids.”
Benso said in Luzerne County, 11,000 children under the age of 5 need child care, but only a third of that care is considered “high quality,” meaning a low teacher to student ratio, an experienced staff and a small group size.
She said typically children who are from lower income families don’t have as much access to higher quality care.
“That means in Luzerne County, only one in four children have access to high quality care,” she said. “That’s pretty low.”
It’s a similar story in Lackawanna County.
Benso said the solution is a better investment by both the state and federal governments.
“We need to make higher quality child care more available to our families with greater economic risk,” she said. “The state needs to fix the rates it pays to child care providers.”
More than 200,000 families in Pennsylvania receive a child care subsidy for those who are working, training or in school, and they can receive up to about $48,000 per year for a family of four, based on including guidelines, according to Diane Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association.
“Unfortunately, that’s never enough money,” she said. “We have many families on waiting lists. So if you need to go to work and you’re eligible and you are waiting, who has been caring for your kids during that time?”
She said the lack of access to child care is a hindrance to businesses and people looking to enter the workforce.
“If our families can’t work, then our businesses can’t thrive,” she said. “It’s all connected.”