More Parents Face a Child Care Crisis

How to find affordable child care during the recession.

January 22, 2009, 7:16 PM

Jan. 23, 2009 — -- The banking industry, the auto industry, the housing industry -- it's no secret that these businesses have been hit hard by the current economic crisis.

Now the child care industry is suffering as well.

Parents facing layoffs and reduced hours often can't afford child care costs, and child care centers are closing because of the lack of business. That can leave families and their children facing a heartbreaking dilemma -- how to cobble together adequate child care when personal finances are increasingly tight.

Many families are turning to relatives to pick up the slack. Forty percent of grandparents provide some child care for their grandchildren. But that's not always the perfect solution, as one family knows all too well.

Joy Walker and Dexter Tiggs of Atlanta have worked hard their entire lives, so they assumed that when their son, "Little Dexter," was born last April, they would be able to afford quality child care. But the downturn in the economy has made that a struggle. Joy's sales are down, and Dexter works two jobs just to make ends meet.

Now they're caught in a bind: They don't make enough to afford full-time child care, but they make too much to qualify for state aid.

"I was told by a state agency, 'Well, if you want help, I know that you work every day, you would have to have nine dependents, based on your salary,'" Walker said. "I am not about to have nine kids."

And so, like thousands of parents across the country, they have turned to family for help -- specifically, to Tiggs' great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, affectionately known as Peabo.

At 73, Peabo already cares full-time for her 5-year-old great-granddaughter Maya. She initially was hesitant to take on an 8-month-old child as well.

"I don't know -- because I am kind of tired of raising children," she confessed.

But she knew that Tiggs and Walker needed her help, so she now cares for "Little D" two days a week, sometimes for as long as 10 to 12 hours a day. The other days, he is in day care.

Parents Can't Afford Daycare

"If we could afford it, I would have him [in day care] full time, just because I want Peabo to have some rest," Walker said.

But overwhelming Peabo isn't the family's only concern. Last year, she suffered a minor stroke, and one day when she was alone, a seizure.

"I try not to think about anything happening during the day," Joy said.

Jo Kirchner, CEO of the Primrose Schools, one of the top child care franchises in the country, worries about children who are placed in unlicensed facilities or in homes.

"When children are in an environment where they aren't supervised, then the safety and security of the children are at risk ... which does tremendously impact them," Kirchner said.

But quality day care is costly -- as much as $1,000 per month -- which explains the drop in enrollment and the closing of many independent centers.

For couples like Tiggs and Walker, even part-time day care is a struggle, causing worry and understandable feelings of frustration.

"It infuriates me," Walker said. "There are so many parents out there that work so hard just to provide a decent life, you know, not even a silver spoon, just a decent life so their kids are well taken care of in a nurturing, safe environment, and we are struggling to make ends meet."

When relying on family members to provide child care, there are certain things parents should take into account, experts say.

The number one issue is safety. Peabo, for example, is looking after a 5-year-old and Little Dexter, who will start walking very soon. Given how quickly young children grow, it's imperative to re-evaluate the safety of their environment every two to three months.

Relatives or friends caring for children must have access to the kids' medical information and emergency phone numbers must be posted at every telephone.

Another issue parents should consider is their child's socialization. Despite the love Peabo gives Little Dexter, he needs contact with other children his own age. Providing ways for him to play with other toddlers will become increasingly important.

Depending on Grandparents

Grandparents also can help in other ways. Many grandparents contribute to their grandchildren's college funds -- but that gift might be put to more meaningful use if they contribute to child care and early education. Families can get a college loan, but they can't get a pre-school or child care loan.

Research has found that every dollar invested in early education yields an $8 return in terms of the savings to society on costs incurred later by at-risk kids.

Also, mom and dad can check to see if their employers offer a dependent care allowance that is non-taxable, or try to work with other parents in the same boat by sharing child care.

For more information about child care and ideas for more affordable options, go to:

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