KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City-based group called United WE is highlighting the struggles families are facing when searching for child care and working to find solutions.
United WE just released a new report on the topic, using data gathered from nearly 300 people surveyed across Missouri.
Around 57% of people reported paying more than $500 per month for child care, and 29% reported paying more than $1,000 a month.
During the pandemic, 93% of participants said they experienced some disruption of child care. Thirty percent said they lost access to all child care providers.
These issues are especially prevalent in rural communities.
"Accessibility of childcare facilities, they're far and few between," Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United WE, said. "Secondly, the accreditation, so having an accredited childcare facility, in some really, really rural parts and remote parts of the state, there's only one accredited childcare facility in the entire county."
Doyle acknowledges that the solution is not simple and will require a lot of different ideas.
Here are some of the potential solutions she mentioned:
Paid family leave
Infant care is often the hardest type of child care to find, so allowing parents to stay home with their newborns can take that stress away. Continued flexibility for parents, even as they children age, can also help retain women in the workforce.
"To have that flexibility to take care of a child when they may be sick and you can't get them to child care, if you can signal some of those things, that will also help recruit women back into the workforce," Doyle said.
Along those same lines, Doyle said employers need to be flexible and innovative and work with their employees to find solutions.
She specifically mentioned CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, which opened a school care center for employees during the pandemic. Even with children back in school, the company continues to offer on-site child care options.
Extending the child tax credit
Since July, parents have been getting an expanded child tax credit as part of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March.
Families received up to $3,000 per year for children ages 6-17, and up to $3,600 per year for children ages 5 and younger. Most families received the money through monthly payments.
Prior to the expansion, families could receive up to $2,000 per year as a lump sum.
The last payment of the expanded child tax credit went out on December 15.
The Build Back Better bill includes an extension of the expanded child tax credit through 2022. The House has passed the bill, but the Senate is still debating.
Doyle says many parents have mentioned how helpful those expanded payments have been.
Higher wages for child care workers
Doyle says child care facilities are struggling to find workers, in part because of low wages.
The current average hourly wage for child care workers is around $11.69 in Kansas and $11.58 in Missouri, according to Indeed.com.
"We have also heard from childcare providers - the system was already stressed, and then you add the pandemic on top of it, and then childcare facilities closing," Doyle said. "We really need to come up with a solution on how to get livable wages for our childcare providers. And that primarily is women who are working in that workforce, and women of color working in that workforce."
Reduced barriers for licensing
Another way to address the shortage of child care providers is to take away some of the unnecessary barriers to opening a child care facility, Doyle said.
Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe, who has been working with United WE on this issue, agreed.
"Number one thing would be, are there things right now specific to childcare that the state may be doing that we could make easier on somebody who wants to operate a childcare facility," Kehoe said. "With technology and the different things that we have, you find that a lot of regulatory environment in the state is based on something that was developed, 20, 30 or 40 years ago and hasn't been updated to maybe 2021 standards."