Child care is an opportunity, built on strengths | Features


Recently, I read an article in the Small Business section of the Forbes website titled, “Let’s Stop Calling Child Care a Crisis and Start Calling It an Opportunity.” I’m pretty sure the clouds opened up and a shaft of heavenly light shined down on my computer screen. Or, it would have if I hadn’t been sitting in the private (windowless but charming) meeting room of the Fox Den Coffee Shop in Albion.

The lack of child care here in Noble County and around the country is a big deal. But it’s not something that was recently discovered. I hear stories from families telling me that 20 years ago they had trouble finding reliable care when their children were little. People involved in Noble Thrive by 5 now say they have been talking about the problem for decades. So why has it suddenly become a “crisis?”

That word grabs your attention, doesn’t it? That’s marketing. What is a crisis? It’s defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. Crises that come to mind in recent years are the lead in the water of Flint, Michigan, or the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Crises are typically short-term intense needs that require swift action. If child care is a crisis and we have been talking about it for 20 years but not really doing anything, then our crisis management skills are seriously lacking.

The author of the Forbes article, Sara Mauskopf, detailed how using the words like “crisis” actually harm the industry.

“This rhetoric turns people off from working in child care because it makes the field seem unattractive and messy,” Mauskopf wrote. “It turns investors off from funding the market because it makes it seem like there isn’t any money to be made. It turns innovators off from building companies in the space because the issues the child care industry faces seem too gnarly.”

That’s not to say that we don’t need to solve the complex challenges plaguing child care, like a lack of capacity, a shortage of educated providers, and the costs that families struggle to pay but in turn doesn’t cover a facility’s overhead or a provide a living wage for educators.

According to Early Learning Indiana’s “Closing the Gap” report from February 2022, Noble County’s access to capacity, quality, affordability, and choice of child care and early learning are well under where they should be. Out of 100, Noble County’s Affordability Index is 85.5. That’s great for our families, but that also hurts the child cares that lose money every day because parents can’t afford to pay enough to cover their operational costs. Our quality index is 57.4. Not great, but not so bad.

But here’s where things really start to go downhill. Our choice index…the variety of types of child care available, is just 36.8. Capacity, the big issue that people talk about the most, is just 28.2. Let’s put capacity in terms that might be easier to visualize. We know that we are most in need of child care spots for infants and toddlers, children from birth to 3 years old.

Statistics from Brighter Futures Indiana show that there are 1,558 infants and toddlers in Noble County that may be in need of care. How much capacity for infants and toddlers does our state report that we have? Just about 108 spots. That’s 7% of the care we need, IF facilities are fully staffed. It’s also dependent on the ages of other children in a licensed home child care. Realistically? There are probably fewer spots than that.

We know these deficits exist. We see them every day. But what good is it doing to focus on the negatives? Let’s reframe that to say that child care is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for improvement. The time is right to add more state-regulated, quality licensed centers, registered ministries and licensed homes so that parents have a choice as waiting lists decrease. We can get more people interested in Early Childhood Education as a career, so that the early learning employee pool is larger. We can develop affordability programs that can provide some relief to parents who are struggling with their child care costs.

Across the county, state, and nation, groups are coming together to find opportunities and make a difference. That’s the key…finding opportunities. We can’t force a church to start a registered ministry, or twist someone’s arm to open their home for child care. What we can do is nurture the possibilities.

Here is what we mean.

• The Town Manager of Albion had this crazy idea to use Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district funds to partially pay for the construction of a child care center in Albion. It gave us an opportunity to bring together organizations in our community to see where this project can go. Today, architects are working on preliminary drawings.

• American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to the county gave us an opportunity to look at how the funds could be used to support families and the economy by making child care more affordable. After making a pitch to the Noble County Commissioners, they didn’t appropriate ARPA funds. Even better, they budgeted the requested $50,000 in 2023 County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) funds, recognizing that child care affordability, like capacity, is an economic development issue. Noble Thrive by 5 plans to launch the Tri-Share Program in early 2023.

• The lack of a high school Child Development Associate (CDA) program in Noble County gave us an opportunity to first talk with Impact Institute, and then work individually with schools to develop a program locally. At least two high schools in Noble County are considering designing their own programs so that students can get started in their early learning careers.

Let’s promote child care and early learning by focusing on its strengths. We know that quality early learning experiences benefit even the youngest children by supporting their brain development — an important step for long-term health and well-being. We know that having enough child care spots for all the children who need care can benefit the local economy by allowing more parents to enter the workforce, generating more taxes, and giving families more disposable income to reinvest locally.

By highlighting the strengths, finding the opportunities, and focusing on “how we can” instead of “why we can’t”…that’s where the change happens.

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