Dawn Blalock is the Program Manager at Little Miracles Early Development Center, an Ohio licensed 4-star Step Up to Quality child care program that prepares future generations for life long success through quality early learning experiences and family partnerships. Little Miracles Early Development Center is located in Columbus, Ohio and are open non-traditional hours to meet the needs of families in our community.
In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson wrote, “Poverty perpetuates itself. … children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators. Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.” A great early childhood experience makes their lives better and they pass a heritage of opportunity to their own children thus breaking generational barriers and the poverty cycle for their family.
Unfortunately, Ohio families are being denied the chance to succeed at work and become self- sufficient because they cannot afford quality child care. For far too long, Ohio’s woefully low child care eligibility (130% of the Federal Poverty Level) has held families and child programs like ours back. I firmly believe that if we want to get more families back to work and children into high-quality early learning environments, Ohio must be bold and expand eligibility for publicly funded child care to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. The percentage increase will keep Ohio working by helping parents afford child care and ensuring more children in low-income families have access to high-quality care, setting these children up for lifelong success.
In the first three years of a child’s life, 80% of brain growth occurs. Achievement gaps widen year after year due to the lack of early learning experiences, laying a weak foundation for a child’s future success. Investing in early childhood education is a great way to stop these gaps where they begin, long before a child enters kindergarten. But we have to do it in a way that is smart, strategic, and that is equitable. Increasing the federal poverty level for income eligibility standards is a great way to start.
The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development found that women and communities of color experienced the biggest challenges due to the loss of child care. These types of barriers have been in place for years and make it hard for women and people of color to successfully climb the social-class ladder. Studies have shown that children that attend a high-quality preschool program were more likely to graduate high school and attend college. Fewer smoke, drink, use drugs, receive welfare or have gone to prison.
Having worked in a childcare program for over 15 years, I have seen many families denied child care benefits because of Ohio’s woefully low eligibility requirements. We know that 38% of Ohio’s children are living in a single-parent household. The income eligibility standards take gross salary into consideration, not net income. Nearly 1/3 of Ohio’s family income goes towards rent, mortgage, food, insurance, taxes, and other related expenses. We are not setting our families up for financial success. Today I would like to tell you about a family that was recently affected by Ohio’s income eligibility standards. Then I will discuss how these all too familiar circumstances directly effect child care programs across the state of Ohio.
We have served the Argus family since her daughter was an infant. Ms. Argus works at Amazon and her daughter is in our pre-kindergarten program. Our teachers have only a couple of months to continue to prepare her for Kindergarten this fall. During child care redetermination in December 2020, because she had been promoted to a supervisor position, she was denied child care benefits. This resulted in her disenrolling her daughter from our program. Three months later, Ms. Argus made the tough decision to reduce her hours to part-time in order to be eligible for child care benefits. Can you imagine the pride it took from this young mother to have to cut her hours and pay because she was moving up in her company? Is this not what these programs are meant to do? Help and encourage families to be financially independent? If the eligibility standard were increased to 150%, then she (and many other families) would be able to work full-time, provide for her family’s basic care needs, and move up in her career.
Programs across the state are constantly experiencing these types of problems and we are seeing a decrease in enrollment because parents are losing child care benefits. Now, as private pay parents, they have to make the tough decision to either stay home, reduce their income to meet the eligibility standards, or send their children to unlicensed, unregulated providers. Star-rated programs are losing private pay families to family members, babysitters, or unlicensed providers due to our required higher customary rates to provide high-quality early education. These type of unmonitored and unregulated environments are not developmentally appropriate and oftentimes leads to neglect or abuse of our young children. Additionally, they are not trained to provide assessment for developmental delays, able to recognize early intervention, and refer the family to necessary services and supports. They are not required to make developmentally appropriate lesson plans or provide activities that foster learning and development. All of these services are required by ODJFS through the Step Up to Quality guidelines. With this type of care, how will Ohio’s children be academically and socially-emotionally prepared for kindergarten and beyond?
As you are already aware, expanding child care eligibility to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level benefits all Ohioans by preparing more children for success, allowing families like these to return to work full time, increasing enrollment for child care providers, supporting the business workforce, and increasing state and local economies. There is a negative correlation which simultaneously place individuals at high risk of crime due to low educational outcomes. We should use education as one way for crime prevention by closing the achievement gap and equipping Ohio’s children to be set up to successfully graduate high school, then college or vocational school, and become skillfully employed. Thus, allowing them to break generational barriers and become financially secure and able to continue to contribute to Ohio’s economy. Child care is the backbone of our society and we are considered the workforce behind the workforce. The sustainability of our child care system is critical. In its current state, childcare desperately needs this increase to see enrollment retention in child care programs and allow highly rated centers to expand because the need would grow.
Groundwork Ohio's budget blog series features stories from child care professionals, families, business leaders, and community members on why there's an urgent need in their communities to expand access to quality child care. In the state biennial budget, Ohio legislators have the opportunity to increase eligibility for the state's publicly funded child care program from 130% of the Federal Poverty Level to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Read our child care budget fact sheet to learn more about why there is an urgent need to increase access to quality child care. Take action today by contacting your Senator urging their support for expanding eligibility by clicking here.