Scarlett Hilton: In-Home Child Care Providers Need Policymakers to Act

Scarlett Hilton is a child care provider in Sabina, Ohio where she owns and operates Hilton Daycare, a small, in-home child care program. Scarlett is married and has two grown children, one of which still lives at home while finishing her Master’s degree in middle school education. Like many others, her child care program has struggled through the COVID pandemic, and has been on the front lines advocating for child care and young children. Scarlett is a constituent of Ohio Senate District 17 and Ohio House District 91.

In my journey to become a high-quality child care provider, I have learned many things about child care. I was legally unlicensed in Ohio for six years. During those years, I was always looking to increase the quality of the care I provided. I decided to take the plunge and become licensed due to the high number of calls I was getting for parents who needed state assistance for child care, and the low number of providers in my county – Clinton County – who can accept publicly funded child care. Currently, there are six licensed homes and eight centers in my entire county that can take state-funded families. My license was delayed due to the COVID pandemic, but I was finally licensed on July 1, 2020. On May 30, 2021, my fifth star in the Step Up to Quality system—the highest quality rating a provider can receive – will go into effect.


When the pandemic hit, our lives changed in many ways. But in other ways, the pandemic just made some of society’s issues easier to see. The importance of child care, or the lack thereof, is clearer now more than ever. The lack of child care was an issue long before COVID. It simply became an issue we could no longer ignore.


The child care crisis is a three-fold issue, starting with the lack of high-quality child care providers, twisting down the road past the high number of parents who cannot afford quality care, then twisting again past the providers who have closed due to the number of parents who found themselves no longer working. The road sadly ends at the door of our schools with children who have not been provided with the skills and education needed to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.


There are no easy answers to this issue, but there are answers in front of us. We could begin with raising the amount of money a family can make while still receiving assistance to help pay for child care. Currently, families earning more than 130% of the Federal Poverty Level are not eligible to receive publicly funded child care subsidies. This means someone making $30,000 a year could be left to pay half of their annual income to child care, leaving them with significantly less money to cover other living expenses such as rent, food, transportation costs, medical costs, and other needed expenses.


This math clearly is not working and as a result of this faulty formula, many parents face a tough choice: they either do not work or their child goes to unregulated child care. I’ve had a grandparent tell me that her grandkids were being sent to an unregulated provider who had 15 children in the home at a time. I told her what she could do to remedy this issue, but when she brought it up to me again a couple of weeks later, I inquired why the children were still there. The answer? Price. The mother simply could not afford to pay more than the $10 a day per child she was paying at the time.


Currently, many of us, providers and parents alike, are urging the state to raise the income eligibility for publicly funded child care assistance to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. This would raise the limit so that a family of three – a single mom with an infant and a toddler – earning up to $32,580 would qualify for publicly funded child care, making it so more families could at least afford to go to work.


Why quality child care? Affordable, quality child care is not just making sure your children have a babysitter. Children who have quality child care enter kindergarten with the building blocks needed to be successful in school. High quality providers are highly educated. They use a curriculum that works for young children, guide children through discovery and observation, develop reading and math skills, and much more. In some instances, child care is also the only place where children get served the healthy meals and snacks they need to grow and learn. Quality child care does not just affect the lives of these children today, it can and will affect them for a lifetime. Children that emerge from child care equipped with the tools for a solid education are far more likely to be successful through their school years.


Affordable child care is not just a family issue, it is a community issue. When parents can work, they are more able to contribute to society. This spreads to the greater good of the community. It also creates more stable living situations for the children involved. Can you imagine being a child and waking up each morning wondering if you will have enough to eat today? Will you have clean clothes? Will the water be on so you can fill up a cup or flush the toilet? These are not the questions we want children to ask. A child should wake up asking: what will I learn at child care today? I wonder if we will have my favorite lunch today? When will the caterpillars we are growing at child care emerge as butterflies?


Many providers are barely making it financially at this point, and many of us (including myself) are a week away from closing the doors at any given time. Our children, families, child care programs, and communities need policymakers to take this crisis seriously and to invest in quality child care. It is an investment in a child’s success in life, which in turn is an investment in our society.


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.