MOUNT VERNON — Last fall, residents told Knox Pages that the lack of child care is a serious concern for working parents.
The Area Development Foundation sees the lack of child care as an economic problem for employers and employees. Earlier this year, an ADF survey documented the effect lack of child care has on the local workforce:
• Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they have family members who cannot work full time due to child care demands.
• Fifty-five percent said they have considered leaving their job due to child care needs.
As of May, there were 986 spots in licensed child care. However, survey results show that at least 1,822 new child care spots need to be created to meet the need.
The ADF’s Sam Filkins told those attending a workforce needs assessment meeting on May 3 that solutions include expanding latch-key programs in the schools, reducing obstacles to in-home providers, and creating new child care centers.
Additionally, the county must address the inadequate wage most child care workers receive. The state national average is $11.06 an hour.
In Knox County, a livable wage is $14 an hour. A good salary is $18 an hour.
On-site child care
Given the current labor shortage confronting employers, employees are becoming more vocal about what benefits they require to stay in or enter the workforce. And they are increasingly calling on employers to provide on-site child care.
Although employers agree that on-site child care increases employee retention and could be a means to lure mothers back into the workforce, only about 6% of employers nationwide offer the service. And there are good reasons why.
The cost of establishing a facility, staffing, ensuring appropriate training and certification, and complying with federal regulations and inspections adds up quickly. In addition, liability and legal concerns exist even if employers contract with a provider to run the child care service.
Additionally, many businesses don’t have space available for on-site child care. Building a center carries a hefty price tag.
But a Pennsylvania nonprofit has found a solution that alleviates the child care struggle for parents, supports employers’ desire to help, and affords a good wage to child care workers.
Along the Way
Along the Way, based in Montgomery County, PA, provides in-home child care to single moms who work nights and weekends. Co-founded when several church members looked for ways to minister outside the church walls, the group is pioneering a model that brings child care to the parent.
Established in 2016, the organization sends professional, background-checked caregivers to the mom’s home. Caregivers get paid $20 an hour; vacation time and a 401k are among the employee benefits.
“It has been extremely difficult, which is why nobody else is doing it. There have been challenges every step of the way,” executive director Kristina Valdez said. “I don’t think they knew what they were getting into, because they probably would have put the brakes on. What they didn’t know is there is no public funding for it.”
Valdez, a former single mom who worked part-time while getting her master’s degree in social work, said Along the Way falls into the crack between a licensed child care facility and the home health care model. As a result, it misses both funding sources.
“That has been the biggest challenge, and it is ongoing for years,” Valdez said, adding that there is no source of public funding in the foreseeable future.
To stay under the licensing requirements, providers can care for no more than three children at a time. They also cannot care for children from different families in the same setting.
Working with five or six moms at any given time, eight caregivers provide child care and support for things like school applications and serving as a referral resource for auto mechanics and other services.
“It’s holistic life support with child care at the center so the mom can go to work and get out of poverty,” Valdez explained.
No more than two or three caregivers are assigned to a family. Having the same caregiver(s) builds relationships with the children and the mom.
There is no set length of time for the moms to receive support.
“Some take longer to get to economic stability,” Valdez said, noting that many moms have adverse experiences such as domestic violence, abuse or divorce.
Although the numbers are still small, the in-home child care model works. Ninety-three percent of the mothers served have maintained stable employment, and 50% have simultaneously worked full-time while enrolled in a certification/degree program.
Examples of success include moms becoming registered nurses because they could attend school during the day while working as a certified nursing assistant at night.
“We focus on shift workers because single moms are unable to find night and weekend day care,” Valdez said. “These mothers would either be scraping together friends or moms to care for the kids, or they would be unable to take the job.”
Valdez said Along the Way is a “complement to the traditional child care system and fills in the gap.” For example, in addition to overnight care, caregivers might go in at 6 a.m. for a few hours to get the kids off to school.
“If the mom is the only adult in the house and can’t get child care for the early morning, she can’t take the job,” Valdez explained.
Community Connects and employer subsidies
To date, Along the Way has helped 13 families and 39 kids, all funded by private donations. Now the group is ready to move into the next phase.
Valdez said the group established Community Connects as a way for for-profit organizations to give back to the community. An auto mechanic, for example, might offer discounted services and extended payment plans to the mothers. In return, Along the Way recognizes the business as a sponsor.
Additionally, Along the Way is about to launch an employer-subsidized in-home pilot program using $3.26 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds from Montgomery County.
The three-year program will move mothers from Along the Way’s wait list — which Valdez said is very long — and place them with employers who partner with the nonprofit. The funding model is divided into four streams:
• 25% from local government or grants
• 25% from community philanthropists
• 25% from the employer
• 25% from the mom
Moms who cannot pay would initially receive free services. Then, as they move up in income, they will begin to pay on a sliding scale.
“The employer won’t pay the whole ride, and neither will we,” Valdez said. “Everyone who benefits is at the paying table.”
The program will start with one employer and eight current child care providers. The goal is to add five employers every year.
“These are employers who typically have no solution outside of putting in a day care center and having kids sleeping on a cot. They’re willing to do this because they need shift workers,” Valdez said.
With the ARPA money, Along the Way will scale up to 30 caregivers by the end of October.
“At the end of the three-year period, we will have 150,” Valdez said. “That will be 150 jobs created.”
Caregivers get $20 an hour, $7 higher than the industry average in Pennsylvania. The benefits package also includes four weeks of paid time off.
“We are trying not to have our own retention problem. The wage has to be livable,” Valdez said. “We don’t want our employees to need our service.”
Caregivers receive training in trauma, child development and behavior, health advocacy, and other topics. Along the Way pays for training and certification/recertification.
Return on investment
Valdez acknowledged that it is hard to quantify a financial return on investment for the nonprofit’s work. But, she said, the in-home child care model provides a human return on investment for employers, mothers, families, and the community.
“On a practical, economic level, it helps the community because we’re able to ensure workers who are able to get to work and do their part,” she said. “The community also benefits when neighbors are not in poverty.”
Valdez noted kids benefit by being in their home environment and exposed to less trauma and food insecurity.
“It provides the stability of being in their own bed every night and at their own dinner table,” she said. “And you can have that stability without sacrificing the ability of the mom to work.”
On the employer side, Valdez said employers benefit because they have workers who show up.
“For the employer, they have a workforce that was previously unavailable,” she said. “We are getting a little more traction now because of the labor shortage, child care shortage, and our work over the past six years. But it’s still radical and hasn’t been done before.”
Valdez’s ultimate goal? To have an Along the Way everywhere there is a YMCA.
“What that looks like, I have no idea,” she said. “But there are parents struggling everywhere, and there is a child care shortage everywhere.”
For more information about Along the Way, call 267-384-4546 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.