In-home aides offer solution to child care problem
By Samuel Johnson
All parents, no matter how much money they make, deserve to go to work knowing their kids are safe and in the care of people they trust. In Ohio, many parents who work in low- and middle-wage jobs simply can’t afford child care, or live prohibitively far from providers. Public policies that expand the use of in-home child care aides can help more parents get to work and ensure children with special needs have the care they deserve. A new pilot program in Appalachia might point the way forward.
The state of Ohio offers assistance to some eligible working families through publicly funded child care, but stringent income rules on who qualifies exclude many families. In 2020, the average annual cost of child care for a 1-year-old — $10,908 — was almost the same as the average annual tuition at a public four-year college: $11,670. A single mom making $15 an hour, with a one-year old and a four-year old, would pay almost two thirds (62%) of her monthly income for the average, market-rate cost of child care, leaving little left over for food, housing, transportation, phone, healthcare and other basic necessities.
Even before COVID, many Ohio families, especially those in rural areas, lived in child care “deserts,” without any centers or home care providers for miles. The pandemic and the corresponding recession forced many providers to reduce capacity or close their doors. According to the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, there was a 24.5% loss in family child care homes between June 2020 and June 2021. Today working parents across Ohio’s Appalachian region have fewer options and a tougher struggle to find child care while they work. According to Lisa Radford, Social Program Coordinator with Athens County Office of Job and Family Services, there are no child care providers anywhere in Athens County that care for children of parents who work the second shift, night shift and/or weekend shifts. It’s a problem for families and employers alike.
Furthermore, nearly 400,000 households in Ohio do not have cars. If a single parent relies on walking and carpooling to get around, they cannot take advantage of most child care options if the facility is more than a few blocks away. This is particularly challenging for families in rural areas without public transportation, where the nearest child care provider may be anywhere from five to 25 miles away. Additionally, parents who have children with disabilities have a particular challenge in finding child care that meets their children’s needs. It is estimated that about 115,000 to 152,000 Ohio children have disabilities, and surveys find “a larger proportion of parents with disabled children experience at least some difficulty finding care.” All of this means that there are potentially thousands of families who need other child care options and new solutions.
This is where in-home child care aides have a role. Having a trained professional come to a child’s home makes working during non-traditional hours far easier for parents and eliminates the need for the family to take care of transportation. For children with disabilities, this ensures that they have the accommodations they need, and feel comfortable in their surroundings.
Beginning in April, Athens County launched an in-home aide pilot program in southeast Ohio. The program employs aides for $13 an hour to care for children with special needs or during non-traditional hours, with the goals of expanding access to child care and creating new jobs in the child care workforce. With improvements to ensure workers are paid a living way of at least $15 an hour, it could be a way to provide income to people who are already providing unpaid care and to develop a pool of trained workers as substitute teachers in day care centers. If the program proves successful, it will provide a model for other counties to follow. There are currently 16 in-home child care aides in the state of Ohio, only two of which are involved in the pilot program. This means that the thousands of families that might vitally need this service simply have no access to it.
By looking at this program, we can recommend some action. First, the state should provide legislative guidance and financial assistance for the program. Upon completion of the pilot, the state should fine-tune the program and take it to other counties, expanding the resource to the thousands of families that need it. State policymakers must require that the program pay better wages and incentives to attract and retain qualified people; if the state provides more resources, the ability to provide better wages will follow. Finally, the state also needs make people aware of this program and resources like it. Most Ohioans still have never heard of an in-home aide as a child care option; there needs to be greater effort to publicize the existence of these programs to attract families and workers.
Samuel Johnson is a rising sophomore at the University of Chicago. He interned with Policy Matters this summer.