Child advocates present a plan to increase Alabamans’ access to childcare

Several child advocacy organizations in Alabama have recently introduced a comprehensive plan aimed at assisting state lawmakers in tackling the critical issue of the state’s shortage of child care providers.

During a press conference in Montgomery, representatives from various organizations, including VOICES for Alabama’s Children, Alabama Partnership for Children, and the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, unveiled an 80-page document called the ‘Roadmap to Support Alabama’s Parents, Children, Employers and Economy.’

According to Bob Powers, board president of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, the road map highlights the need for increased support, resources, and effort in order for child care programs to effectively implement various aspects of child development, not just high-quality education.

The plan presents a wide range of policy proposals aimed at both immediate and long-term objectives in improving access to child care. The majority of these proposals focus on providing state-funded assistance to child care providers and parents who require child care services.

There are several proposals being considered to address the child care workforce wage issue and support the growth of child care centers. Some of these proposals include implementing wage supplements for child care providers and offering grants for the start-up and expansion of child care centers.

Heidi Cawthorne, the owner of Bell Road Preschool in Montgomery, expressed her concern about the increasing costs that have compelled child care providers to raise wages. This has created a challenge for these facilities to expand in certain instances.

Cawthorne expressed his gratitude for the grants provided by DHR through Partnership with Children, acknowledging that without them, their organization would not be able to sustain their current level of operation.

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“I hope the state and those in charge will recognize our importance as well. It is my sincere wish that we can collaborate to ensure the survival of educational institutions like mine. By doing so, we can continue to serve future generations and cultivate their love for learning.”

In addition to that, there is a proposal for the state to provide refundable tax credits to the child care workforce. This idea is already being pursued by certain state lawmakers who are actively working on introducing it as legislation.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, a Democrat from Huntsville, introduced a bill in 2023 that aims to provide tax credits to companies that cover their employees’ child care expenses.

According to a recent statement to Alabama Daily News, Daniels has expressed his intention to re-file the bill as soon as possible. He mentioned that Senator Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, will be carrying the bill in the Senate. Despite its unsuccessful attempt last year, Daniels remains determined to push for its passage.

According to Daniels, the employer is responsible for the credit, which is then either added to the employee’s paycheck or paid directly to the provider.

The legislation is set to be included as part of a comprehensive workforce development package supported by key lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth.

Alabama’s workforce has been greatly affected by the shortage of child care services, resulting in one of the lowest labor participation rates in the country.

Alabama has the highest rate of parents missing work due to child care problems in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics included in the roadmap plan.

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According to recent data, a significant 20% of parents in Alabama had to miss work in 2021 due to child care difficulties. This percentage is considerably higher compared to the rates observed in neighboring states such as Mississippi (11.1%), Tennessee (12.5%), and Georgia (12.7%).

Tametria Conner Dantzler, a mother of four children, is among those parents who have faced the challenging task of finding suitable child care, especially considering that three of her children have special needs. This situation has further complicated the already difficult search for appropriate care options for her family.

Dantzler expressed that finding quality child care that caters to children with unique abilities and special needs had been a significant challenge and struggle.

“I’ve noticed that not much has changed in the past decade, even in the heart of the city. I had to leave my beloved professional job because I couldn’t find suitable childcare for my son.”

In 2022, the employment rate of mothers with children up to 14 in Alabama was 70.6%, which is slightly lower than the national average of 72.3%.

Dantzler continued by acknowledging the pressing need for more childcare facilities. However, she emphasized that the existing centers are already operating at maximum capacity, leaving a significant gap in meeting the demand for childcare.

“We need to address this broken system and take concrete actions towards finding sustainable solutions,” said the speaker, emphasizing the importance of turning words into meaningful change.

A study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center as part of the roadmap plan reveals that Alabama is facing a significant child care supply gap of 40%. This means that the current child care providers in the state can only meet 60% of the demand. The supply gap is even higher in rural communities, with 11 counties experiencing a gap of over 50%.

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Dawn Owens, a community engagement specialist for VOICES, highlighted another policy proposal in the plan: reforming state and local zoning barriers. Owens explained that home child care providers usually have licenses to care for up to six children, but they can obtain a license as a family group home provider to care for up to 12 children. Unfortunately, certain zoning laws often hinder home child care providers from obtaining licenses to expand their services.

Sharon Jackson, the owner of Array of Light Home Care in Millbrook, can attest to this.

Jackson emphasized the need for removing zoning barriers in her municipality, as it would enable her business to serve an additional 16 families within a ten-mile radius. She also highlighted that this issue is not unique to her area but is faced by providers throughout Alabama, limiting their ability to reach their full potential.

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