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Local Organization Says Statewide Inconsistency in Child Care Assistance Leaves Families Underserved

By Tyronda James

tyrondajames@minorityreporter

Children together, playing. Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

The Children’s Agenda  (TCA), an independent, non-profit organization in the city of Rochester, advocates for effective policies and evidence-based solutions for children recently released the Barriers to Care: Improving Access to New York State’s Child Care Assistance Program report, that maps how the information surrounding child care assistance is provided by counties in New York state. The report also reveals gaps and variations from county to county that may leave some families underserved due to where they live. 

“The child care assistance program is a critical support for families throughout New York,” said Pete Nabozny, Policy Director at The Children’s Agenda. “But it is administered by counties that each have their own way of doing things.” 

Nabozny said being able to access a state program should not depend on which county you live in.

In the report the agency identifies that  income eligibility, other eligibility requirements and ability to download the application are three essential pieces of information that should be included on every county website. The report listed a review of every county website that revealed:

  • Out of 58 counties outside of New York City, more than half of county websites did not include any of the essential information.
  • Only 3 counties included all of the essential information (Erie, Suffolk, and Yates).
  • None of the websites included an application for assistance that could be completed online.

To Brandie Johnson, a Rochester parent, childcare is of the utmost importance. She said as a parent and a social worker she has had the opportunity to see the role that child care plays for children and families.

“I began sending my children to Rochester ChildFirst Network when my daughters were 18 months and 3 months old. In that time I’ve watched their social skills expand profoundly,” she said.  “The biggest sacrifice that I make as a parent to afford child care is time. I’ve had to take on more work hours to cover both child care and home expenses,” she said.

“Families deserve access to resources and for information to be accessible across the state, not county by county.” 

The Children’s Agenda has three recommendations of changes to better the administration of child care assistance:

  1. Require that standardized information be posted on county websites.
  2. Develop an online child care assistance application.
  3.  Fund child care assistance navigation services.

Vonetta Rhodes of the Western New York Child Care Action Team and representative to the Empire State Campaign for Child Care said families throughout New York State deserve to receive clear, swift and impactful information about child care assistance for funding, available slots, as well as developmentally  appropriate and culturally responsive policies that most closely meet the needs of families. 

“This central processing of enrollment into services must be ready and maintained at all times and representative of all modalities. Currently, especially now in the age of the pandemic, it is critically needed and tragically not available,” said Rhodes. “Families are in constant and unpredictable transition in employment, income, and even marital status thus making soliciting, affording, enrolling, and maintaining child care a challenge that feels like an insurmountable worry.”  

According to the organization’s press release, there has been a decline in enrollment in recent years and that many counties have been unable to spend all of their child care assistance funds.

“For the 2021 federal fiscal year, it is estimated that more than $290 million in child care block grant funds will be rolled over to the next year in New York. While some of the decrease in families applying for funds may be due to pandemic disruptions to work and child care, enrollment has been in decline for more than a decade, according to the release.

They say that the decline in enrollment does not, however, mean families no longer need assistance. 

A 2021 poll by the Raising New York coalition found that 76% of parents of young children were concerned about the lack of affordable, high quality care for their families and 60% reported limited access to child care. 

“New York’s goal should be to increase the number of families receiving critical support for accessing quality, affordable care,” said The Children’s Agenda CEO, Larry Marx.

He said the NYS Governor Kathy Hochul has expressed support for improving child care affordability in New York and has recently introduced two bills to expand access to affordable child care (Universal Child Care Act S.7595 and Early Learning Child Care Act S.7615). 

“But if families don’t know they are eligible or how to apply, then state investments will not have their intended impact,” Marx said.

Rhodes said that New York State must urgently work with providers and parents to improve these systems.

“We need a streamlined, automated, one-stop child care system that makes it easier to access help to pay for child care, benefits for families, available child care providers in our entire community,” she said.

The Barriers to Care: Improving Access to New York State’s Child Care Assistance Program report can be found at: https://thechildrensagenda.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Child-Care-Access-FINAL.pdf. Further information about the organization can be found at https://thechildrensagenda.org/.