Program Helps to Address the Dire Need for Child Care in Rural America

Save the Children is partnering with higher education in rural areas to offer career pathways in child care and early education.

<p>Photo Courtesy of Save the Children</p> A child stacks building blocks as part of Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success programming in South Carolina.

Photo Courtesy of Save the Children

A child stacks building blocks as part of Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success programming in South Carolina.

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

We all know this—child care is eye-popping expensive.

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average middle-income ($59,200-$107,400) American family will spend approximately $12,980 per child per year in child care costs. That comes to a total of $233,610—not including the cost of higher education—by the time that child turns 17. And get this—these figures are based on 2015 and do reflect the recent trends of inflation.

What’s more, according to The Center for American Progress (CAP), which is a public policy research and advocacy organization based in Washington D.C., the cost of affording a safe and adequate, licensed child care provider is out of reach for most families, particularly in rural areas. CAP’s data reveals that depending on the age of the child, monthly child care costs average between $889 and $1,324 per month.

Adding to the issue, federal funding that helped keep child care centers open during and after the pandemic recently expired and was not renewed by Congress. That's leading to thousands of families losing access to child care in what's being called a child care cliff.

To illustrate how dire the child care desert crisis has become, CAP created a website called Child Care Deserts. The website is an interactive map that drills down to exact neighborhoods and divides the information up based on poverty rates and access to child care.

But now the nonprofit Save the Children has come up with a brilliant idea on how to address the country’s growing child care deserts. They are working to create child care where none exists.

Save the Children

The nonprofit organization has been in operation for more than 100 years. It operates in 116 different countries around the world. Their mission is to protect the rights, interests, and welfare of the world’s 2.3 billion children.

Save the Children's Career Pathways Program

With funding help from the Department of Labor, Save the Children started the Career Pathways Program in 2020 to help build the child care and early education workforce in rural areas of the country. And it's grown ever since.

Through the program, people can earn their child development associate (CDA) credentials in order to start working immediately. Participants can also earn their associate's or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, which can take from six months to four years to complete. But that leads to a wider variety of opportunities and higher income.

The program also offers an impressive list of benefits to help support those who participate in the program, including:

  • Partial or total tuition paid.

  • $500 for books, supplies, and materials.

  • $550 barrier reduction stipend (which can include computer and internet, child care needs while attending courses, gas to get/to from school, offset additional costs incurred from higher education such as fees).

  • $2,000 in Lakeshore Learning materials.

“So far, through the support of Save the Children and its partners, over 400 people have participated in the career pathways, and 145 participants completed their credential or degree included in the programming,” Linda Hampton, Managing Director of Save the Children’s U.S. Nonprofit Partnerships, says.

The participants in the program can then go on to work in daycare centers, open their own businesses, or teach preschool in the communities where they live.

Hampton explains that Save the Children concentrates its work in some of the most rural and under-resourced areas, where economic barriers are intensified by limited resources, geographic isolation, and ever-growing disparities.

These career pathway solutions currently support 59 rural counties in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia. According to Pew Research, rural families are more likely to have significant barriers to common technology, including cell phones and internet access.

How the Program Benefits Students and Families

The career paths offered by Save the Children may be the golden key to helping revitalize communities. The excitement from both participant students and higher education leaders is palpable.

“We make sure that the content is applicable to their everyday lives and hopefully can be implemented immediately into their work life, especially if they are already working in a child care environment. We also try to be mindful of our students’ situations and work with them where they are at,” says Rebecca Crawford, PhD, Clinical Faculty, Child and Family Studies, at Eastern Kentucky University.

Crawford says from the aspect of teaching courses, the instructors take a lot of time in designing the courses and pacing out coursework appropriately for the students. “The courses the students take are only eight weeks long, so we must be intentional about the learning objectives and the assignments they are completing,” she said.

Since the goal of the career pathways program is to bring relief to child care inequities, the program itself has to step in and help provide some child care so that the parents participating can focus on their goals.

“When a family enrolls in the program, we provide services for the child and the whole family. Many families cannot afford child care, therefore by enrolling their child in Head Start/Early Head Start, they can work,” says Joyce Taylor, the Parent, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator (PFCE) for Save the Children Head Start/Early Head Start in Eastern Arkansas.

Taylor works with the families enrolled in the centers located in Forrest City and Patterson. “This allows families to become more self-sufficient and better able to provide the necessities for their families. We provide opportunities for the parents to volunteer in the center, participate in Policy Council, and encourage them to apply for job opportunities,” she says.

Not only does Taylor help Save the Children provide services and opportunities for her community, but she benefits directly from their career paths program, too.

“My first experience with Head Start was working in the office as the Office Clerk. At that time, I did not know much about Head Start or the services it provided for children and families. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be in the classroom working with the children and families. When a position became available for a 3-year-old teacher, I applied,” Taylor says.

But before Taylor could take that next step, she had to earn her CDA first. From there, Taylor began chasing her dreams of higher education, and that is when she learned about the career pathway grants from Save the Children.

“After finishing my associate degree, I enrolled in an online bachelor’s program,” Taylor says. “I am determined to finish within the next 18–24 months. By finishing my bachelor’s degree, I will be able to apply for positions for which I am currently not qualified. I have a goal in mind that I would like to achieve within the next 3-5 years.”

Taylor points out that when participants take classes and attend webinars or other training, it provides them with more knowledge to be able to service families and children better. “I look at it as an opportunity to gain experience of a different or better way of doing things that will help me connect with families and children. What worked in the past might not work now.”

While much more needs to be done to help families across the country find safe, affordable child care that can support working parents and caregivers, Save the Children is actively seeking out communities where people can develop the skills needed to address the child care shortage in meaningful ways. 

Related: 6 Strategies Parents Use to Manage the Cost of Child Care

For more Parents news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Parents.