RALEIGH, N.C. – Working parents in North Carolina are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of child care options for infants and toddlers.
Of the state’s 100 counties, 99 have areas where child care options are so scarce that parents are wait listed, have to rely on relatives and neighbors or drop out of the workforce.
According to the Center for American Progress, 44% of North Carolina families live in these so-called child care deserts.
Heba Atwa, a mom in Wake County, says she spent months trying to find infant care for her daughter, before relatives stepped in to help.
“There are the places that are really desirable that everybody wants to send their children to,” she states. “Those have ridiculously long waiting lists. They aren’t for single mothers – full-time, working single mothers – who don’t have the luxury to wait around until one of those spaces opens.”
Center-based care for infants and toddlers can cost on average nearly $1,000 a month per child.
And according to the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, 67% of children in the state under age six have parents who are working.
Federal government-sponsored child care subsidies ease the financial burden, but many eligible families don’t have access to them.
More than 31,000 children are on the subsidy wait list in North Carolina.
Michele Rivest, policy director of the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, says the current business model for providing child care for infants and toddlers isn’t working. She maintains the state should develop a new model that reflects the true cost of quality care.
“The issue with infant/toddler care is that you need more qualified teachers and staff per child than you do in preschool,” she states. “Babies, you know, can’t fend for themselves, but it’s also that babies need much more individualized and constant care and attention.”
Rivest says the state also should increase child care subsidy funding and change wait list policies, as well as adopt a paid family and medical leave policy for workers.
She points out that one-quarter of North Carolina parents are back at work within two weeks after having or adopting a baby.