It is a timeworn adage that you should not expect overnight solutions to problems that have been years in the making.
So, let’s take comfort in seeing incremental progress on addressing our community’s child care crisis — while businesses, child advocates and others continue to work toward more breakthrough solutions to systemic problems. For example:
- In just a couple of weeks, more than a dozen families have already gotten help through the new Child Care Connect program launched by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks and Springfield Public Schools. As explained in our recent story, parents may request information to help them find quality child care in our community – rather than forcing them to call multiple centers in a desperate search for help.
- The Discovery Center announced it was opening 30 new child care spots at its Science Sprouts Discovery School. Kudos to Rob Blevins and staff for taking this small, but important step, to provide more options.
Next week, business and community leaders will gather to discuss more solutions, in particular what employers might do to help employees address the need for child care. You can read more about the forum here, and it’s not too late to register here for this free event at 5 p.m. Aug. 16 at the eFactory.
Our recent series on the Child Care Crisis explored the challenges involved in addressing the severe shortage of quality child care slots in our community. In the in-depth series of reports, coordinated with similar coverage from KY3 News, we explained how parents are confused about where to turn for information — and how that puts some families at risk. It also adds to workforce shortages as parents scramble to find affordable care.
The headline on the initial story said it all — Too big to ignore: Springfield’s child care crisis affects all of us
In Springfield, the future growth of our economy may depend on finding solutions. Most families rely on two wage-earners to make ends meet, or to afford the luxuries many value. Generational changes, including the evolving role of women in the workplace and in society, have added pressure to an outdated, overwhelmed system of care for our youngest and most precious resource: our children.
Meanwhile, we are increasingly aware of the critical importance of these first few years of life in terms of brain development and social skills that will be key to success in the future.
COLUMN CONTINUES BELOW:
Exploring and finding solutions
Our series not only exposed key problems in the current system: it explored solutions, fostered the creation of some new ideas, and sets the stage for further discussion.
In addition to the previously mentioned new initiatives, we also wrote about employers who are developing child care programs for employees, we explored low-cost programs, like Wonder Years, that are already available for parents, and we provided tips for parents trying to choose a place for their children, as well as information for people who might consider providing in-home care.
For me, a key part of the ongoing discussion is how we can address the historically low wages for child care workers. This is a national problem, but we shouldn’t count on a federal solution: it is more likely to be fixed at the local level, community-by-community.
As an example, local businesses trying to fill many vacant positions might be convinced that — rather than starting their own center — it is in their best interest to increase the utilization of current child care centers, which are operating at half or two-thirds of capacity. The solution will start with higher pay for workers — to help sustain the current workforce and to attract more workers. But if centers have empty rooms, ready to serve children if only teachers can be found, doesn’t it make sense to start there?
The child care crisis has been a long time in the making. Some may fear it is too big to fix.
But one of the things I love about Springfield is the can-do attitude, the idea that by working together, we can solve problems that other communities find too daunting.
Springfield is fortunate that so many have already stepped up to address these issues. Many religious organizations offer under-utilized space in their buildings for child care centers, often subsidizing the costs. Some employers have taken steps to help employees.
And we have great resources through Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and other organizations — all committed to helping Springfield live up to its reputation as a community that collaborates to find solutions to difficult problems.
At the Springfield Daily Citizen, we are happy to play a role, and are committed to informing the community about issues like child care, and being a catalyst for good.
As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions. My contact information is below.
And if you have a big idea to help address the child care crisis, please join us next Tuesday evening.