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A child-care crisis

WIth parents nees on the rise, options are limited

WIth parents nees on the rise, options are limited

June 23, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

When Crystal Minnick got a job offer with "really good money" earlier this year, she soon had to accept the reality that opportunity would pass her by.

A child-care provider herself, Minnick couldn't find child care for her infant and 4-year-old daughters.

"I called 22 providers in the area," said Minnick, of Keedysville.

Six of the providers she used to know had gotten out of the business. Others had no openings for her infant daughter. Another wouldn't have an opening for four months, and when she called yet another provider to confirm an interview, that person had decided not to take on any more children, Minnick said.

Minnick is one of many parents in the Tri-State area who has had trouble finding child care because of shortages in three specific areas - infant care, school-age children, and children who require supervision for unusual or extended hours because their parents commute or work late shifts.

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The number of child-care spaces hasn't caught up to demand for various reasons.

The pay for family child-care providers isn't great and benefits such as health insurance are expensive, experts said.

The cost of providing child care for employers can be daunting, especially to small businesses, said Fanny Crawford, executive director of Apples for Children Inc. The nonprofit organization operates LOCATE, a child-care referral service for Western Maryland.

"There's no easy answer," Crawford said.

The solution to making more child-care spaces available will require a community approach involving families, employers, community organizations and government at all levels, Crawford said.

Shortage of space

The most severe shortage is for infant care, Crawford said.

Apples for Children helped families find child care for 4,377 children from May 1, 2000, to April 30, 2002, Crawford said. About 40 to 60 percent of those children were infants.

Most child-care centers don't offer infant care because of the added expense of needing more employees to care for the babies, Crawford said.

In Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, a family child-care provider can have two infants per adult, including the provider's infant child, officials said. State regulations limit how many infants a family child-care provider can have because infants require more attention.

"Some parents make 50 calls looking for a space and end up quitting their job because they can't find child care," Crawford said.

Robin Vogel, a family child-care provider in Maugansville, said she often gets inquiries about infant care from parents who have already called 15 other providers.

"A lot of ladies started looking for child care even before they've given birth," Vogel said.

Because state laws also limit how many children overall a family child-care provider can accept, there is a shortage of spaces for school-age children, Tri-State child-care officials said. In Maryland a family child-care provider can care for up to eight children, including two infants and her own children.

School-age children take up slots, but don't provide as much revenue as younger children because they are only in child care for a few hours a day, experts said.

Even though child-care providers have school-age children for longer hours when school is out in the summer, providers prefer to take children who are full time year-round, said Rita Tederick, president of Tri-County Family Child Care Association and a provider in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Tederick said school-age children shouldn't count toward the regulatory limit because they don't require as much supervision. In West Virginia, a family child-care provider working alone can have up to six children.

"School-age kids can pretty much do for themselves," she said.

They feed themselves, they don't need help going to the bathroom and often they help entertain the younger children, she said.

Special needs

There also are not enough child-care spaces for children with special needs or who require supervision during extended or unusual hours, Tri-State area experts said.

Special needs include having Attention Deficit Disorder, requiring medication or transportation or having parents who don't speak English, Crawford said.

Parents who commute to a day shift can have trouble finding a child-care provider who will cover the extra hours of the commute, Crawford said.

Many parents drive 20 minutes out of their way - just one way - to get their child to child care, she said.

Parents who work rotating or late shifts have an even more difficult time finding child care, Crawford said.

Tederick offers child care in her Martinsburg home from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

"There's a lot of jobs out here for people to work to get them off unemployment or even welfare, but it's hard for them to find a day-care provider that does evening hours or overnight," Tederick said.

Tederick said there might be three providers in the Eastern Panhandle who offer overnight child care.

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