Access to high-quality, affordable child care providers could expand if Michiana organization wins grant

NOW: Access to high-quality, affordable child care providers could expand if Michiana organization wins grant

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – A Michiana organization is one of 19 finalists in a statewide, $1 million dollar child care desert competition.

United Way of St. Joseph County could win up to $100,000 to increase access to high-quality, affordable child care for kids ages six months to six years.

“It is very difficult to find childcare in general but more specifically quality childcare,” said United Way of St. Joseph County President and CEO Laura Jensen.

Maureen Weber, the president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, says a child care desert is a neighborhood or part of town where there is only one child care seat for every three children.

A 2018 study from Early Learning Indiana and the Indiana Business Research Center says deserts exist in all 92 counties in the state, impacting 45.2 percent of children.

That same report says in St. Joseph County 45.8 percent of kids live in a child care desert.

Jensen says the lack impacts the whole family.

“They’re [parent] not able to maintain their job,” said Jensen. “We could look at it from a workforce development standpoint and employee turnover and attrition. We can look at it from a school readiness factor and the impact it’s going to have on a child throughout its entire life.”

Weber lists the high costs of child care for families and providers and the lack of teachers as some of the big reasons behind this problem.

She agrees that child care deserts create a two-generational problem, explaining parents may not be able to work without quality, affordable childcare impacting their personal and state economy and kids miss out on the chance to develop social-emotional skills and learn.

Weber hopes the 10, $100,000 grants Early Learning is awarding to community organizations this December addresses the need.

“It really is important that we solve this problem so we can get all the workforce players on the field so that parents are able to go to work, secure in the knowledge that their children are safe and learning,” said Weber. “It’s tied almost inextricably to the future of the state.”

The grant money is made possible by a 2014 grant from Lily Endowment Inc.

Jensen says if her organization wins the money, they will work with Ready to Grow St. Joe to help license already operating programs by paying for startup costs like background checks and drug and TB tests, support the early learning program housed in South Bend’s southeast neighborhood center, and work with a local employer to start a pilot childcare program on sit.

Emily Rupchock with Ready to Grow St. Joe estimates that will create at least 150 more child care seats.

“Not only will we have new seats in affordable, high-quality learning but it means that we will have some also additional support for early learning programs,” said Rupchock.

South Bend mother Ieshia Mason says she struggled to find a daycare that fit within her budget and fostered her two-year-old daughter’s growth.

“Trying to find an affordable daycare was insane,” said Mason. “There were times when I was stressed out and I’d be like crying because she’s sick so she can’t go to daycare and I have to miss work so that’s going to mess me up.”

Mason believes the increased access would help kids like hers thrive.

“They’re just going to see their kids transform into like this little genius,” said Mason. “The parents too because they’re going to see what their children are doing and then they’re going to want to add to it.”

UWSJC should find out by mid-December if they’ve been selected.

The Kosciusko County Community Foundation is also a finalist.

To learn more, click here.

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