Childcare needs

Clearview Early Childhood Center has a new club and playground thanks to a grant from The Harvest Foundation and its partners. These are some of the people now studying childcare needs in Martinsville and Henry County.

The ever-present problem for families to balance the need for both parents to work while also providing proper care for often young children will take a new focus at a couple of key community sessions today in Martinsville.

The city of Martinsville, Henry County and The Harvest Foundation have been studying this issue in conjunction with providers and corporations in the area, and they will host events to discuss what they’ve learned and to seek public input from parents experiencing trouble finding childcare to suit their employment needs.

The community meetings, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the New College Institute, located at 191 Fayette St. in Martinsville, will allow residents to voice their concerns and opinions about the topic.

“The city of Martinsville, Henry County and Harvest have been working together to identify priority issues that we work on addressing together,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer at The Harvest Foundation. “Lack of available childcare was identified as one of those issues.”

The group has shared its original findings with businesses and organizations in the area, including the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation, the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, Smart Beginnings, the Virginia Department of Social Services, both Henry County and Martinsville City schools, Patrick Henry Community College, the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, SOVAH Health-Martinsville and Eastman Chemical Company.

These businesses and organizations came together to work on the issue and explore avenues to solve the problem. That’s when the idea of a community meeting arose – to gauge the public’s interest on the perceived predicament.

“The city of Martinsville served as the lead to apply to the Department of Housing and Community Development for a planning grant to conduct a community assessment to better define childcare needs,” Agee said. “The grant was approved, and now with the DHCD at the table as a partner, we will use the assessment findings to evaluate what services are needed to support workforce, educational and economic development opportunities for community residents.

“One of our initial steps with the grant is informing the community through this public meeting of our work, to gather input and encourage participation.”

Before opening the floor to public comment, the group did some research. What it found involved not only the cost of childcare compared to wages earned while working, but also the limited hours many daycares and preschools operate.

“What we are learning initially is that it is a combination of issues. Childcare is expensive, but parents want to ensure that their children are in safe, high-quality learning environments, so cost is an issue they are faced with,” Agee said. “There are also limited resources for infant care.

“Options are very limited for those in the workforce who work second or third shift or 12-hour shifts, as well. This is what we are hearing initially, but the community assessment will allow us to better define what barriers parents are facing.”

A costly issue

According to a Pew Research Center study published in 2018, stay-at-home moms and dads account for approximately 1 in 5 American parents. That’s more than 11 million adults.

During a 27-year span, stay-at-home parent trends saw little change. Percentages of stay-at-home mothers fluctuated from 28% in 1989 to 23% in 2000 but rose again in 2010 at 29% before steadying out at 27% in 2016. Stay-at-home fathers went from 4% in 1989 to 5% in 2000 to 9% in 2010 but declined to 7% in 2016.

The study also found that approximately one-quarter of stay-at-home dads have college degrees, compared to nearly 30% of stay-at-home moms, which could mean that qualified employees can’t pursue careers because of childcare issues.

If stay-at-home parents are educated and qualified for area jobs, why aren’t they out in the workforce?

In some cases, if a parent leaves a job, there might not be enough money to provide for the family – but if a parent stays employed, daycare costs easily can take the majority of the paycheck.

In Virginia, the average, full-time, minimum-wage worker takes home approximately $1,257 a month – and that’s before taxes. After the federal withholding, Social Security, Medicare and the state tax, that amount dwindles down to approximately $1,094 a month.

That would mean that in net pay before any food, housing, groceries, transportation and other necessities come out of the check, the average, full-time, minimum-wage worker brings home $13,128 for the entire year.

The Boston Globe studied childcare costs and reported that in Virginia the average for an infant is about $10,028 per year. So if a parent working 40 hours a week and making minimum wage has to pay that rate for childcare, she or he essentially will have a $3,100 annually for everything else.

That’s $258 a month for all other expenses. That may not even cover the cost of gasoline from home to daycare to work and back again five times a week.

Meeting needs of today

The groups hosting the meetings in Martinsville are doing so because they see childcare as element of fulfilling the employment ranks and creating the sort of market that attracts new employers.

“If our community is going to enhance and grow the childcare system, we need to know what parents are looking for, what barriers they are encountering,” Agee said. “This will help us better develop a community childcare plan to meet the needs of our current workforce as well as those we are looking to recruit to our community as it continues to grow.”

If the assessment shows that building the city and county’s childcare capacity could allow more individuals to enter the workforce, the community could potentially apply for Community Development Block Grant funding in the future to assist with that development. The Martinsville Council on Tuesday contributed $50,000 to this effort.

“We want to make sure that we have childcare that meets the needs not of yesterday’s workforce, but today’s workforce,” Agee said.

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