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Day care dilemma

Availability is common problem for parents seeking child care

Availability is common problem for parents seeking child care

August 21, 2009|By JULIE GREENE

When Jessica Green needed to find a new child-care provider for her infant daughter, she ended up using a week's worth of sick time from work before she found a provider that worked for her.

She called 20 to 25 providers before finding an opening for 6-month-old Ryleigh.

"It's not that easy to find day care for infants," said Green, 20, a single mother who lives in Hagerstown.

Finding child-care spaces for infants is one of the most common availability issues, Tri-State child-care officials said. Other availability concerns are child-care needed during odd hours because of parents' shift work; for older children; and in certain geographic areas where there is a shortage of providers.

In 1991, when Fanny Crawford began working for a Washington County-based child-care referral service, there was a strong need for more licensed child-care spaces across the area.

That's improved, but there are still niche areas where demand is high and supply is scarce, said Crawford, executive director of APPLES for Children, a child-care resource and referral source for Western Maryland.

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More spaces have become available during the recession as out-of-work parents remove their kids from child care to take care of them at home, sometimes because they cannot afford the child care anymore, Crawford said.

That has resulted in some child-care programs in Washington County closing because they don't have enough children to stay open, Crawford said.

Some parents are cobbling together child care, Crawford said. That might mean the child spends fewer hours with a professional provider, stays with a neighbor for a while and then is picked up by dad, who has left work early.

"Parents are making tough decisions. If you still have a job, but you're working fewer hours or maybe you took a pay cut, (you're) having to make choices," Crawford said.

Franklin County, Pa., also is in danger of having a few child-care operations close, said Heather Clark, who works for South Central Community Action Programs' Child Care Information Services. Child-care providers who serve low-income residents receive a state subsidy, but that money has been delayed due to a state budget impasse.

SCCAP sends subsidies to eligible Franklin County child-care providers on the 20th of the month, which was yesterday, Clark said. The agency took out a loan, enabling it to pay providers 20 percent of what they are owed for services in July, she said.

Once the state budget is passed, providers will be reimbursed the subsidy they are owed, Clark said. But she worried that some providers might not have enough financial resources to hold them over that long.

Infant care

While Green's 20 to 25 calls might sound like a lot, Crawford said it is not unusual for parents of an infant to have to make 50 calls before they find available child care that works for them in terms of location, hours and cost.

In Maryland, state law limits in-home child-care providers to two infants if there is only one adult caregiver, Crawford said.

Often, one of those infant spots is already taken by the child-care provider's own baby, Crawford said. Many people who open child-care services in their home do so because they want to stay home and take care of their child or they cannot find child care for their kids, Crawford said.

Green works five days a week, and her family members work, too, so that option isn't available.

"Every number APPLES gave me, I would call and it was like, 'No, I have two infants already.' It was so hard to find day care," Green said.

West Virginia and Pennsylvania have similar restrictions on how many infants can be cared for by an in-home child-care provider.

In West Virginia, an in-home provider can care for six children, only two of which can be younger than 2, said Valerie Gorman, supervisor for the Martinsburg, W.Va., office of MountainHeart Community Services. MountainHeart is subcontracted through the state of West Virginia to handle the state's child-care subsidy program.

Pennsylvania state law dictates a schedule of ratios regarding how many infants can be enrolled in a licensed child-care program, depending on how many adult caregivers are in the program, Clark said.

Other shortage areas

Finding child care when parents work evenings and weekends has always been an issue.

With the economic downturn, many parents have been laid off. Crawford suspects that many of the jobs available for parents looking for work, will involve evening and/or weekend hours.

Child care during odd shift hours, such as 3 to 11 p.m., also is an issue in Franklin County, Clark said. Clark said finding spots for older children, ages 11 and older also can be difficult. Most providers do not have programs for those ages.

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