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Heeding the Call: County Investments in Quality Child Care

By: Beth Hess, J.D., M.A., Director of the Center for Early Learning at Groundwork Ohio

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Ohio, as well as the nation, is currently facing a child care crisis. Working families are being stretched to their breaking point to afford quality care and early education for their young children. All while child care providers are experiencing record workforce shortages and growing wait lists.

Ohio is home to more than 800,000 children ages 0-5 and they are not all being set up for success. Less than half of Ohio’s children are ready for kindergarten and state education data consistently shows that children who start behind, stay behind.

80 percent of Ohio voters believe child care is expensive where they live

In 2021, commissioned by Groundwork Ohio, Public Opinion Strategies conducted a statewide survey of 800 registered voters and an oversample of 400 parents with children under the age of five in Ohio. The poll found that child care has become an economic issue with more than four in 10 working parents saying they have had to cut back on hours to care for their children and nearly one in two parents with children under five saying they have had serious problems with child care, meeting work and family responsibilities, or affording child care in recent months, all of which has impacted their work. When asked an open-ended question about what child care means to them, the most common answer given is “work more.” The poll also showed that 80 percent of voters in Ohio believe child care is expensive where they live and 60 percent of non-working or part-time working moms would go back to work or work more hours if they had access to quality care at a reasonable cost.

County officials are responding to the call and investing in child care in their communities

Across the country, counties invest more than $60 billion annually in federal, state, and local funding for human services. Counties often serve as Head Start agencies or contribute local dollars to expand Head Start programming. Counties play a critical role in investing in policies and services that align and strengthen early childhood systems and services. With the recent influx of federal relief funds, counties have been strategically increasing their investments in child care. These strategies include:

  • Giving grants to child care providers to assist in retaining and attracting employees and growing or maintaining child care capacity

  • Providing child care scholarships to families

  • Providing pay increases directly to child care professionals

“In Franklin County, we saw between August 2020 and August 2022, more than 200 child care centers close.” - Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley

To address the issues of closing child care centers, as well as the rising cost of child care for families not eligible for Ohio’s Publicly Funded Child Care subsidy, Franklin County invested $24 million in ARPA funds to support increased access to quality child care. Franklin County Rise is one of the largest investments in child care of any county in both Ohio and the nation and is creating a roadmap for other counties to replicate.

Learn more about Franklin County Rise in Commissioner Crawley’s blog: Franklin County Rise: A Historic Investment in Young Children, Early Educators, and Families.

“Twelve of the 19 top employers [in Shelby County] are manufacturers, with every one of them looking to hire…an unemployment rate of 3.7%...a child care center with a waitlist in excess of 200 children…in order to get people to work, we have to do a better job of providing child care opportunities. Collaboration is key to success.” - Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann

Shelby County invested ARPA funds to provide coaching, training, and materials to stabilize current child care providers, expand licensed child care programs by five family child care providers and three center-based programs, and incorporate child care expansions including additional availability for non-traditional work hours.

The county partnered with several local agencies, including 4C for Children, Shelby County Job and Family Services, and the United Way. The ARPA-funded projects have the potential of providing child care to an additional 227 children.

“What’s happening in Minnesota sounds very familiar to what’s happening in Ohio...We could open one family child care center each month for the foreseeable future and never make up that gap.” - Clay County Commissioner Jenna Kahly (Minnesota)

Bringing a perspective from Minnesota, Clay County has invested county ARPA funds in several projects that are making it easier for child care providers to stay open, such as covering the costs of licensing, training, and important safety requirements like fire extinguishers. The county is also investing in specific areas of child care the community has identified needing innovative solutions. The county is offering a mentor program for licensed family child care providers. This low-cost program provides both business mentorship as well as assists in combatting the isolation that can occur for family child care providers. The county is also paying child care providers to hold spots for children in foster care to ensure these children have access to quality child care programs.

Want to learn more?

Check out the recording from the October 11th webinar featuring Franklin County Commissioner Erica Crawley, Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann, Clay County Commissioner Jenna Kahly (Minnesota), and Arabella Pluta-Ehlers of the National Association of Counties Research Foundation.

Groundwork Ohio Resources

National Association of Counties Resources

Blog post on how counties are investing SLFRF funds

Franklin County


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