DHS grants for child care the right move at the right time


In a bid to help working families overcome a lack of child care services, the state Department of Human Services is stepping up.

The agency recently announced that it will provide grants to new child care centers in areas that are lacking providers.

The grants will provide up to $10,000 per child to start-up child care businesses in Tulsa and 33 other counties representing more than half the state’s population. In northeastern Oklahoma, that includes Adair, Creek, Delaware, LeFlore, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers, Tulsa and Wagoner counties.

The counties included in this program are considered “child care deserts” by the state, or places “where there aren’t enough licensed child-care providers to meet the needs of working families.”

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The effort is in response to a serious problem that was made worse by the pandemic. Many communities that lacked child care services saw what little there was evaporate as child care centers and homes closed when COVID-19 swamped the state. Many never re-opened.

This poses a significant problem for working families and the state. Costs depend on age of child, geography and quality. In 2019, the average cost of infant care in Tulsa County was about $7,300 annually.

A scarcity of providers can drive that cost higher. A lack of early education workers are another challenge.

The grants can defray start-up costs for potential providers, freeing money to pay workers what the market dictates. It will not cover long-term operational costs, which includes improving quality. DHS has an incentive program for quality we encourage new providers to join.

For the state, a lack of child care is one of the main reasons why workforce participation rates remain stubbornly low. Just under 62% of the state’s worker pool is employed right now, well below neighboring Kansas and the national average.

For families with young children, unavailability and unaffordability of child care is going to keep at least one parent at home. That’s one less person who could be filling a job for employers, many of whom report difficulties in finding enough workers.

We’ve long held that the state has an interest in investing in its people. The DHS child care grant program is a good example of this.

These grants help small business owners get their enterprises off the ground and should assist meeting Oklahoma’s growing child care needs. But it won’t solve the challenges long-term, and the state must prioritize early education, which is child care.

We hope aspiring child care providers take advantage of this program. The grants will be awarded until the money runs out or until July 31.

If all goes well, the state will have taken a big step toward strengthening its workforce while improving the fortunes of working parents and their children.

In this week’s episode, Ginnie Graham and Bob Doucette talk about Ginnie’s meeting with TU student leaders, the stigma that continues with mental health, the troubling political landscape in Oklahoma as campaign season heats up, the death of Queen Elizabeth and an important message from Bob about the value of disconnecting.

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