There are more and better options for parents, but a worker shortage is driving up prices
INDIANAPOLIS — A new report on the state of child care in Indiana finds the state is making gains, but trouble is brewing.
Early Learning Indiana updated their “Closing the Gap” report. It measures child care on four values: access, quality, affordability and choice.
“It’s a little bit of good news,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana. “We’ve made progress in expanding capacity since our last report.”
The good news is that access and quality are moving up slightly. That means more seats for kids and better learning while they are in child care.
But the shortage of child care workers that started in the pandemic has not gotten any easier. It’s especially hard in Marion County, and that’s having ripple effects in neighboring areas.
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“Marion County has kind of pulled the capacity into the center,” said Weber. “It made more sense when people were commuting into Indianapolis.”
The number of child care workers in Marion County is down almost 20% from before the pandemic. That’s pushing up wages for workers in the county and pulling them from surrounding counties. Hendricks and Hancock counties have actually seen a drop in access over the past year.
A shortage of workers is not an easy fix. Weber said there are three main areas where the industry can improve to attract more.
“You might think compensation is a good place to start. We’ve been able to use pandemic relief funds to help with that, but we need more solutions in the long term,” Weber said.
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Weber said career growth is another problem. As child care workers get more training and better educated, they tend to leave the industry to teach in K-12 schools.
“The average kindergarten teacher makes just over twice what a child care worker makes,” Weber said.
She said the industry needs to do more to give child care workers ways to grow while staying in the field. That means advancement that keeps them in the classroom and compensates them for the work. Early Learning is working with institutions like Ivy Tech to help with this.
“We also have room to grow when it comes to flexibility. Maybe give mom some time off so she can go to her kids games, too,” said Weber.
In the meantime, parents are facing rising child care costs that can put them in a bind. There are government child care subsidies available, but they have strict income guidelines.
“There are many providers, including our Early Learning centers, that offer help even if a parent doesn’t meet those federal aid guidelines,” Weber added.
Weber said parents should just ask providers if help is available.
Finally, there is also the Early Learning Marketplace, to help parents find child care providers with open seats.
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