Child-care challenge

By Karen W. Ponder and Susan Russell

Thank you for your recent articles about child-care subsidies [“Windfall runs out”, 12/18/03; “Poor children at risk”, 12/16/03].

Articles like these have helped call attention to the challenges families are facing in North Carolina and have encouraged public policymakers to take action.

By finding an additional $8 million, families in some of our most threatened counties, like Durham and Wake, will be able to continue receiving child-care assistance through June.

While this action is to be applauded, the problem is far from solved.

Most families with young children cannot afford the cost of high quality child care.

In Durham and Wake counties, the cost of infant care can exceed $10,000 a year, more than a year of in-state tuition at N.C. State University, N.C. Central University or UNC-Chapel Hill.

Without child-care subsidies, families must make choices between negative alternatives, such as using unsafe, unreliable child care, and being able to work.

A worker with concerns about the safety and care of their child cannot focus attention on their job.

Many absences from work are directly related to poor or lack of child care.

In addition, children receiving subsidies who are in high-quality child-care settings where their early learning needs are being met will be better prepared for entry into public school than children without these opportunities.

The largest funder of child-care assistance is the federal government, either through direct child-care subsidies or through the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

Congress is debating the reauthorization and funding levels for the Child Care & Development Block Grant, which is the source of many of the federal child-care dollars.

More funds are desperately needed at the federal level to help North Carolina families.

Smart Start is contributing significantly to meeting the child-care subsidy needs of families with pre-school children.

Approximately 40 percent of Smart Start funds are providing subsidies for working families.

But with cuts to Smart Start over the last few years, the available dollars for child-care subsidies have also declined.

Currently, are 21,000 children qualify for child-care subsidies on waiting lists in our state.

Businesses, communities of faith, United Ways, and local, state and federal governments must all work together to give working families the child-care support they need and young children the right start on the path of success in school and in life.

Karen W. Ponder is president of the North Carolina Partnership for Children in Raleigh.

Susan Russell is president of the Child Care Services Association in Chapel Hill.

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