The Area Development Foundation views the lack of child care as an economic problem for employers and employees. Earlier this year, an ADF survey documented the effect of the lack of childcare on the local workforce:
• Fifty-eight percent of respondents said family members cannot work full time due to child care demands.
• Fifty-five percent said they had considered quitting their job because of child care needs.
In May, there were 986 licensed child care spaces. However, survey results show that at least 1,822 new child care spaces need to be created to meet the need.
ADF’s Sam Filkins told attendees at a May 3 workforce needs assessment meeting that solutions include expanding key programs in schools, reducing barriers to home-based providers and the creation of new nurseries.
Additionally, the county needs to address the inadequate pay that most child care workers receive. The state’s national average is $11.06 per hour.
In Knox County, a living wage is $14 an hour. A good salary is $18 an hour.
Child care on site
Given the current labor shortage facing employers, employees are increasingly vocal about the benefits they need to stay or enter the workforce. And they are increasingly asking employers to provide on-site child care.
Although employers agree that on-site childcare increases employee retention and could be a way to attract mothers to the workforce, only about 6% of employers nationwide offer this service. And there are good reasons for that.
The cost of establishing a facility, staffing it, proper training and certification, and complying with federal regulations and inspections add up quickly. Furthermore, liability and legal issues exist even if employers enter into a contract with a provider to run the childcare service.
Additionally, many businesses do not have space available for on-site childcare. Building a center is expensive.
But a Pennsylvania nonprofit has found a solution that eases parents’ struggle for child care, supports employers’ desire to help, and provides good pay for child care workers.
Along the way
Along the Way, based in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, offers in-home child care services to single mothers who work nights and weekends. Co-founded when several church members sought ways to serve outside of church walls, the group is pioneering a model that brings child care to the parent.
Established in 2016, the organization sends professional and verified caregivers to the mother’s home. Caregivers are paid $20 per hour; vacations and a 401k are part of the benefits.
“It was extremely difficult, which is why no one else is doing it. There were challenges every step of the way,” executive director Kristina Valdez said. “I don’t think they knew in what they were getting into, because they probably would have pulled the brakes in. What they didn’t know is that there is no public funding for this.
Valdez, a former single mother who worked part-time while earning her master’s degree in social work, said Along the Way falls into the crack between licensed child care and the home health care model. As a result, both funding sources are missing.
“It’s been the biggest challenge, and it’s been going on for years,” Valdez said, adding there’s no source of public funding for the foreseeable future.
To meet licensing requirements, providers cannot care for more than three children at a time. Nor can they take care of children from different families in the same setting.
Working with five or six mothers at any one time, eight caregivers provide childcare and support for things like school enrollment applications and serve as a referral resource for auto mechanics and other services.
“It’s holistic assisted living with childcare at the center so the mother can go to work and get out of poverty,” Valdez explained.
No more than two or three caregivers are assigned to a family. Having the same caregiver(s) builds relationships with the children and the mother.
There is no set duration for mothers to receive support.
“Some take longer to achieve economic stability,” Valdez said, noting that many mothers have negative experiences such as domestic violence, abuse or divorce.
Although the numbers are still small, the home child care model is working. Ninety-three percent of mothers served maintained stable employment and 50% simultaneously worked full-time while enrolled in a certification/diploma program.
Success stories include mothers who become registered nurses because they can go to school during the day while working as a certified nursing assistant at night.
“We’re focusing on shift workers because single moms are unable to find night and weekend child care,” Valdez said. “These mothers would either be rounding up friends or mothers to look after the children or they would be unable to take the job.”
Valdez said Along the Way is a “complement to the traditional child care system and fills the gap.” For example, in addition to night care, caregivers may come in at 6 a.m. for a few hours to take children to school.
“If the mother is the only adult at home and she can’t have her children babysitting early in the morning, she can’t accept the job,” Valdez explained.
Community Connects and Employer Grants
To date, Along the Way has helped 13 families and 39 children, all funded by private donations. Now the group is ready to move on to the next phase.
Valdez said the group created Community Connects as a way for for-profit organizations to give back to the community. An auto mechanic, for example, might offer discounted services and extended payment plans to mothers. In return, Along the Way recognizes the company as a sponsor.
Additionally, Along the Way is set to launch an employer-sponsored home-based pilot program using $3.26 million in Montgomery County American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The three-year program will move mothers from Along the Way’s waiting list — which Valdez says is very long — and place them with partner employers of the nonprofit. The funding model is divided into four streams:
• 25% from local government or grants
• 2% community philanthropists
• 25% of the employer
Moms who cannot pay would initially receive free services. Then, as they increase their income, they will start paying on a sliding scale.
“The employer won’t pay for the whole trip, and neither will we,” Valdez said. “All those who benefit from it are at the payment table.”
The program will start with one employer and eight current child care providers. The goal is to add five employers each year.
“These are employers who usually have no solution apart from setting up daycare and having the children sleep on a cot. They are ready to do this because they need shift workers,” Valdez said.
With ARPA money, Along the Way will grow to 30 caregivers by the end of October.
“At the end of the three-year period, we will have 150,” Valdez said. “It will be 150 jobs created.”
Caregivers are paid $20 an hour, which is $7 more than the industry average in Pennsylvania. The benefits package also includes four weeks of paid vacation.
“We try not to have our own retention problem. The pay has to be livable,” Valdez said. “We don’t want our employees to need our services.”
Caregivers receive training on trauma, child development and behavior, health promotion and other topics. Along the Way pays for training and certification/recertification.
Return on investment
Valdez acknowledged that it’s difficult to quantify a financial return on investment for the nonprofit’s work. But, she said, the home child care model provides a human return on investment for employers, mothers, families and the community.
“Practically and economically, it helps the community because we are able to ensure workers are able to get to work and do their part,” she said. “The community also benefits when neighbors are not in poverty.”
Valdez noted that children benefit from being in their family environment and exposed to less trauma and food insecurity.
“It provides the stability of being in your own bed every night and at your own table,” she said. “And you can have that stability without sacrificing the mother’s ability to work.”
On the employer side, Valdez said employers benefit because they have workers showing up.
“For the employer, they have a workforce that was not available before,” she said. “We’re getting a little more traction now because of the labor shortage, the child care shortage, and our work over the past six years. But it’s still radical and it’s never been done before.
Valdez’s ultimate goal? Have an Along the Way wherever there is a YMCA.
“What it looks like, I have no idea,” she said. “But there are struggling parents everywhere and there is a shortage of child care everywhere.”