COMMUNITY CONVERSATION: Addressing the child care crisis in the Miami Valley

Local families are struggling to find affordable, quality child care and preschool, a problem that hinders companies’ ability to hire workers, leaves some kids unprepared for kindergarten and takes a toll on the economy and society, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

With families waiting up to six months for a child care slot to open and paying as much as 19.8% of their county’s median family income, the issue has reached a crisis for our region.

What is being done and can families expect relief anytime soon? The Dayton Daily News hosted a virtual Community Conversation about the child care crisis on Wednesday, May 24. The discussion was co-hosted by Community Impact Editor Nick Hrkman and Dayton Daily News Reporter Lynn Hulsey and featured the following panelists:

  • Lisa Babb, Senior Strategic Director of Program Operations at 4C for Children
  • Shelly Jackson-Engram, Owner/Operator of Ms. Shelly’s Place
  • Robyn Lightcap, Executive Director of Preschool Promise
  • Will Petrik, Project Director for PolicyMatters Ohio
  • Andrea White, State Representative for Ohio’s 36th District

In today’s Ideas & Voices. read highlights from the discussion. You can watch the full Community Conversation on the Dayton Daily News Facebook Page or on our website.

Editor’s Note: The transcript highlights below have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Robyn Lightcap: We know from lots of scientists and fancy research studies that the brain is growing most rapidly in the years from birth to age five, so it’s the best time to teach our children really important foundational skills in the social-emotional space. Things like sharing, taking turns, things that we all need to be able to do all of our lives. And also the early literacy skills, identifying letters, beginning sounds, rhyming and being able to write their names, and then early math skills and recognizing numbers. These are all critical things that need to happen in those years, physical development as part of that, something we call executive function, self-regulation, being able to develop self-control. If children go and have this experience, they’re much more likely to be ready for kindergarten, much more likely to read proficiently in third grade, graduate high school, etc. So it really just sets them up for success. As a country, we need to recognize education starts at birth, and that we need an education system that supports every child, regardless of the parents’ work status or income.

Andrea White: When you look at what taxpayers are paying for now, most of our budget goes to educate, incarcerate and medicate our population. Invest now and save later. If you look at the way we spend money in this state and what we spend money on, we could be making our tax dollars go so much farther if we would just invest in prevention and in education at the earlier years. Look at all our money spent on addiction. In our area, we’ve felt such a huge impact of the opioid epidemic. If we invested more in building the skills kids need, the self-regulation, the conflict resolution, studies those skills can prevent substance abuse and prevent mental health problems. I spoke to one Appalachian superintendent who told me they decided as a district to invest in more early childhood spots, and they are now saving 75% on remediation costs for the early grades in certain areas. Because we’re truly paying for remediation. We’re paying for it as a state for kids in the early grades, eighth grade to ninth grade who can’t read and we’re also paying for it when you go to college — many of our college students are not ready. So how can we look at that and start making data-driven policy decisions in this area, like we make them in other areas?

Shelley Jackson-Engram: As providers, it’s hard for us to close down to go to Columbus to advocate because we serve the families and closing down means that we’ve closed the doors on the family. A few of us have been able to go to Columbus, but we need more of us. We have to think about how can we go to Columbus and fight as well as serve the families who are in need. Our voices are very, very important and it’s important for lawmakers to hear our stories. Fight for us. Without us, there will be no you, so we just need for you to fight for us. Paint us in a different light. Get away from the term — and I say this many times — “day care,” because it puts such a negative taste in your mouth. We need help. We need you to fight for us, fight for our children. They are our future. Invest in education. We talked about the importance of education, but we won’t invest. We will build a jail with a quickness, but we won’t invest in schools or education. So fight for us, help be our voices.

Will Petrik: At the end of the day, all parents deserve to go to work knowing that their kids have a safe, nurturing place to be and we know that many parents find that child care expenses basically consume all of their paycheck. And when that happens, some decide to leave the workforce and moms are often the ones who make that choice and that compromise. I want to highlight that some of the data from the National Women’s Law Center. They highlighted that 817,000 fewer women are in the labor force nationally compared to February 2020. That’s October 2022 to February 2020. So many women have just left the workforce permanently. And on the flip side of that, when lawmakers make the choice to reduce the cost of child care and increase access to high quality preschool and child care, that boosts women’s participation in the workforce. So there’s two concrete examples of that that I want to highlight. One is Washington DC. In 2009, they launched a program that offered two years of universal, full-day preschool. And since they started that program, the maternal labor force participation rate increased by 12 percentage points, and researchers attributed about 10 percentage points to the preschool expansion. I also want to use Quebec as an example. Quebec has had universal child care since 1997. In their program, it costs families just $6 a day. Prior to implementation of that, 67% of women in Quebec with kids aged three to five worked outside the home. By 2014, that number was boosted to 82%. And now Quebec has one of the highest rates of women working globally. So going back to the overall goal of increasing access and reducing cost, that helps employers, but also really gives women more freedom and autonomy to participate in the workforce as well.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Lisa Babb: A population that we need to make sure we’re looking at is our children with special needs. Those families also have a right to go to work and the have the same care as in K-12. If a child comes into a school district, it is the district’s responsibility to ensure that that child can learn. If they need aid, they have that aid and it’s funded. We do not have that in birth through five and these families are struggling because, especially with medically fragile children, that additional care can be too much for our childcare programs that are already struggling for staffing. To think about welcoming a child in with severe special needs is difficult because they’re struggling with keeping their current classrooms open. That’s a population that we really need to look at. Other states are doing much better than Ohio is and we need to look at how can we better serve our children with special needs.

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