It’s an all too common scenario. A young mother wants to go back to work but can’t find affordable childcare for her daughter. Meanwhile, her employer is struggling with the loss of several employees like the young mother and can’t find qualified replacements. The business suffers as they try to make up for the lack of qualified workers. When and if the mother goes back to work, she must leave the child in the care of her elderly neighbor during the day. Meanwhile, the child misses out on beneficial early education that quality childcare could provide her.
While childcare at first may not seem to have much to do with the workforce, the success of businesses often has ties to childcare. At this month’s Eggs & Issues—a monthly event series hosted by the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce which provides breakfast along with a discussion of problems relevant to the community—held on June 5 and titled “The State of Local Childcare & Its Impact on Workforce Development” – leaders and experts discussed childcare issues in North Dakota and how the community can overcome these hurdles. Presenters included United Way of Cass Clay’s Kristi Huber and Thomas Hill, Bright & Early North Dakota’s Pam Palmer, YWCA Cass Clay’s Erin Prochnow and YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties’ Lorrie Thoemke.
From this event, it became clear that issues in childcare do indeed impact the workforce. From the beginning of the session, Huber and Hill quickly laid out the stats, including the striking facts that:
• U.S. businesses lose 4.4 billion dollars per year due to childcare challenges;
• Over a period of six months, half of parents in the workforce were absent from their job at least once for a period of four days because of childcare challenges, and
• Two-thirds of working parents’ work schedules are affected by childcare challenges during a six-month period.
When families run into issues pertaining to childcare, they may have to stay home to take care of a child and businesses are affected. Hill added that families choose whether or not to enter the workforce based on childcare.
Presenters also stressed the importance of quality in childcare. Pam Palmer of Bright & Early North Dakota, an LSSND program, spoke about this aspect. She began by saying that research shows the quality of the early childhood program affects the child’s development across a range of skills including language, math and social skills; it also affects school achievement and success in life. To measure quality, states created their own standards, with the Bright & Early North Dakota 4 Star Rating System and the Parent Aware Minnesota 4 Star Rating System. Each star stands for an aspect of the childcare program—health and safety, good space and materials, enriching activities and experiences and positive relationships and interactions.
Palmer explained that children who received quality early education were less likely to need special education in school, less likely to go to juvenile court, and more likely to graduate high school. From there, Palmer emphasized, “they have the potential to break the poverty cycle.” Those who graduate from high school are more likely to go into higher education or enter the workforce, where they pay taxes and contribute to the economy. Early education can go a long way, both for individuals and for community businesses and the economy.
How do we achieve this quality in childcare? There are costs, which makes affordability a problem for many families. Lorrie Thoemke cited a 2016 study that located a core issue: 42,000 working families have difficulty affording quality childcare, especially for infant and toddlers. There is then a need to balance quality and affordability, which poses its own hurdles.
The United Way representatives presented a possible solution to the problem of childcare in the F-M area: childcare scholarships. Hill explained that they have awarded low-income working families around 75 scholarships per month, and the results have been promising. Nine out of 10 kids from scholarship-receiving families are on track socially, emotionally, and academically to enter kindergarten.
The speakers all agreed that the need for affordable quality childcare affects more than just parents looking for an early education option. Businesses, the community, even the economy can benefit from more access to good childcare.
Looking for affordable but high-quality childcare? Child Care Aware of North Dakota’s website is an excellent resource, and includes features such as an interactive, clickable map that will show you which childcare centers meet your criteria in different counties. Visit ndchildcareaware.org or call 800-997-8515 for more information.
– Compiled by Michelle Foster, LSSND Communications.