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Planting Seeds to Grow Child Care in Rural & Appalachian Ohio

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

By Troy Hunter, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Performance, Groundwork Ohio Follow Troy on Twitter and LinkedIn

Throughout Ohio, the availability of quality child care is a continuous concern for parents and caregivers. However, the challenges are even more disparate in the rural and Appalachian areas of the state, where access to reliable child care remains a significant and often unaddressed issue. The struggles faced by rural families, the broader impact on the economy when child care is not readily available, and the disproportionate challenges faced by families with children with disabilities emphasize a need for Ohio policymakers to act now.

Child Care Access in Rural and Appalachian Ohio

Ohio's region, consisting of 32 counties, houses over 110,000 children between the ages of birth and five. Alarmingly approximately 31,133, or one in three of these children live in poverty. What's even more concerning is that 75% of these young children living in poverty do not have access to quality, affordable child care, despite their economic status making them eligible for publicly funded child care. As a result, a significant 74% of low-income Appalachian children are not adequately prepared for kindergarten, setting them on an uneven educational path from the start.

Additionally, rural Ohio families are more than twice as likely to experience a child care gap, a higher need than supply of child care, compared to their urban counterparts. This means that many rural Ohio families are struggling to find quality child care services for their children which impacts many individuals’ ability to work. These challenges contribute to the economic instability of working families and create disparities in access to quality early learning experiences.

Equitable Access to Child Care

One specific population of rural families is disproportionately impacted by this disparate access. Families raising children with disabilities already face unique challenges in accessing quality child care and support services. These challenges are exacerbated in rural and Appalachian areas, where the availability of specialized care is often limited. For parents of children with disabilities, the search for suitable child care is a complex and often stressful journey. In rural Ohio communities, options are often scarce, with a limited number of providers equipped to support children with diverse needs. Many parents have to choose between taking on full-time work, potentially miles away from home, and staying unemployed or underemployed to provide the care and support their child needs. Unfortunately, the lack of affordable and accessible child care facilities only deepens the disparities faced by these families.

Erin Finley, a parent from a rural Ohio community, shares her personal experience:

"It’s been a really stressful experience trying to find child care for my 2-year-old. In my county, there is one daycare facility and one licensed in-home provider. We do not qualify for Head Start or a child care subsidy. There are some private babysitters that I checked into, but they will not accommodate my schedule. Being a single parent who works full time (out of county) with a one-hour commute each way, really limits my options. I have also been on the waitlist for daycare centers in the county I work in since I was 6 months pregnant with my son. Luckily, I work for a company that allows flexibility while I find child care, but I imagine others would have been at risk of losing their job or being forced to take unpaid leave. I am not sure I will ever be in a position to buy a home or add additional children to our family, which is a sad reality."

For parents like Erin, who work full-time and have long commutes, limited child care options and unaffordable alternatives pose a continuous source of stress.

The Role of the 2023 Farm Bill

The 2023 Farm Bill primarily focuses on agriculture and food policy. It presents an opportunity to address the disparities in child care access across the United States. Currently, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act) is in effect and will remain so until 2023. However, the upcoming bill could reauthorize this policy, and for the first time, allocate funds for rural development to improve the access and quality of child care services, particularly in Appalachian regions. Within this Farm Bill, there is an encouraging bipartisan initiative called the Expanding Childcare in Rural America (ECRA) Act of 2023.

This effort is led by a group of U.S. Senators and Representatives, including Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. The ECRA Act empowers the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide grants, loans, and technical assistance to enhance child care facilities in rural areas, improve child care access for working families, and provide a positive impact on rural communities and the workforce.

The disparities in child care access in rural and Appalachian Ohio call for action. Ensuring that all families have equitable access to quality child care is not just a matter of convenience, but fundamental for the well-being and future success of children in these regions. In addressing these issues, policymakers and stakeholders can make a profound impact on the lives of families who deserve every opportunity to thrive.

Call to Action:

Here are some actions you can take:


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