A new analysis from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute shows finding and affording quality child care can be a huge hurdle for parents working on a degree.
The study recommends solutions to help parents curb the cost of tuition, fees, and child care. GBPI senior policy analyst Alex Camardelle co-authored the report. He says the state could help by increasing money for the Childcare and Parent Services program.
“Currently, we’re only able to serve about one in seven kids through our CAPS program, which is really shy of all of the low-income families in our state who need affordable child care,” Camardelle says.
Genesis Appiah needed some assistance when she decided to go back to school in her late 20s. She initially enrolled in Atlanta Technical College. While there, the CAPS program paid her child care costs. As she got closer to graduation, though, Appiah came to a realization.
“‘I’m so close to graduating, but I’m not going to make much more than I was making [working at a fast-food restaurant],’” she says.
She transferred to Clayton State University, so she could major in psychology. Then, she met with state officials about her CAPS payments.
“They were like, ‘Oh, you go to Clayton State? That’s a university. OK. well, your CAPS is terminated, like today,’” Appiah says.
Appiah was lucky, though. Because she was at Clayton State, she could enroll in a program called Boost.
The initiative pays for child care for parents who attend four Georgia colleges. It’s a partnership between the schools and a nonprofit called Quality Care for Children, which works with parents to find high quality, affordable child care.
QCC CEO Pam Tatum says because the program takes care of child care, parents can better focus on earning their degrees.
“We’ve done surveys with parents, and 97% of the parents we’re serving say that [the Boost program] has greatly reduced their parental stress, and parental stress, of course, impacts children,” she says.
Tatum says before they enrolled in the Boost program, most parents were using informal or unlicensed child care.
“They had really patched together care for when they’re in class or when they’re working, and of course, that has an impact on their ability to do their classroom assignments, attend study groups, and things like that,” she says.
Tatum says the Boost program also benefits children because the majority of brain development occurs in the first 3 to 5 years of life.
“It can make a difference in their ability to read in third grade, their ability to graduate high school and their ability to go to college,” she says. “So, it’s not just babysitting, it is truly early education.”
Every Little Bit Helps
The GBPI recommends supporting parents through philanthropy, like the Boost program. Jennifer Lee, a senior policy analyst with the institute, says that doesn’t mean organizations have to replicate the initiative.
“One area where philanthropy can plug in is…providing targeted child care scholarships for student parents,” she says. “That can include parents who don’t have any child care assistance support at all, and helping with the child care with that. But it can also include parents who do receive some type of child care scholarship from the state, but it doesn’t fully cover their costs…and they’re still leftover with an amount of money they need to pay.”
The study also recommends braiding state and federal funding streams. Camardelle says federal money often comes with its own rules, so it can be hard for state agencies to figure out how to make good use of it.
“Being clear about the rules and the regulations is a challenge, it’s difficult for these different agencies to get a handle on,” he says. “But that’s why we’re producing this brief…so that we can elevate the opportunity to braid the funds and align the systems and provide some ongoing education to our agency partners.”
Camardelle says Georgia can look Tennessee and Arkansas for examples of states that have successfully braided state and federal child care funds.
The brief also suggests providing needs-based scholarships to students with low incomes who are parenting and improving data collection on students with caretaking responsibilities.