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Lack of funds problem for childcare providers
Year after year, Missouri child care advocates keep calling for improvement in daycare and preschool programs. Ideas for how to do that are abundant. But the most important element, money, is not.
In Southeast Missouri, providers report they are facing more difficult times than ever. Many have hesitated raising their rates despite the rising costs of utility bills and other expenses. More are charging parents only what the state subsidy can pay to their program -- they say they would rather keep a child enrolled and spending time in a constant, safe environment than send the family out looking for another more affordable program -- one that could be of a lower quality.
Some say they can't think about attempts to make program changes right now. They are too busy trying to maintain quality they already have. They are focused on just keeping qualified staff -- a definite indicator of a good program, studies show.
"I wish I could, but I can't pay benefits," said Christina Gonzales, director of Cape Girardeau preschool One Step at a Time. "Not just for us, for everyone, that causes a large turnover. We can't really do anything about it, because we aren't going to tell them, ‘no, don't go find a job with more pay.' We understand."
For Gonzales, there are also costs to consider for upkeep related to licensing, and every year, she said, something changes and costs more.
She often takes foster children as new enrollments, although that's not necessarily a smart way to conduct business, she said. No co-pays can be charged for foster children.
"I take them anyway," Gonzales said. "It's a difficult balance, and with the economy makes it even more difficult, but they need care."
"We have some excellent programs in our area who accept the state subsidy and do not require a co-pay from the parents to make up the difference in their rate," said Janice Jones, coordinator of the United Way of Southeast Missouri's Success by 6 Leadership Team, a community group focused on improving early childhood education experiences and access. "That means the provider is often supplementing the cost of care for a child. Many know the parent cannot pay more and want the child to be in a safe and nurturing environment. Our providers work hard and long hours. We are fortunate to have these very loving, caring professionals in our community."
Depending on a provider's licensure, the state pays between $10 and $11 per day per child for daytime preschool care in Cape Girardeau County if parents qualify for child care assistance. Most centers charge from $20 to $27 per day, so parents pay the difference. The subsidy is higher in many urban areas, and lower in more rural areas. In St. Charles County, the state pays between $15 and $16 per day, comparitively. Subsidy rates are lower for group and family home care, as those providers typically charge less than centers.
Missouri's child care subsidy rates haven't changed since 2008.
Low reimbursement rates make it difficult for child care providers to support high quality care and can discourage high quality providers from serving families receiving child care assistance, according to the University of Missouri's Center for Family Policy and Research. The center also reports that Missouri's rates are set at approximately 65 percent of the market rate for infant care and only 50 perent of the market rate for preschool and school-age care -- Missouri ranks last nationally for preschool care and 44th for infant care -- and those figures are from 2009.
"If people are getting paid enough, they can and will put more money into their program, plain and simple," Jones said.
Stacey Hicks, a trainer with Educare, a state funded initiative that provides resources and training opportunities to child care providers with an emphasis on family home providers, said many providers she works with are tired of the financial struggle and starting to feel that with the effort to maintain their programs and keep them open are not worth the time.
"It's sad, because some of these are really good programs," she said.
The providers won't raise their rates, though, fearing they will make sending their child even harder on parents. Limited by state rules, group homes can't take on more kids, either.
"I have told them they should not feel guilty about charging five more dollars per week -- they hardly ever raise their rates," Hicks said. "But they tell me that a lot of times when parents are already struggling with money, they just won't pay at all."
Hicks said if providers were better off she knows they would attempt to increase quality.
"I'm sure that they would love to have quality toys and equipment, and more books, and they would choose to go to more training, but they can't without the financial support, and that's their frustration," Hicks said.
Recent cuts to budgets for programs that provided quality improvement grants have also hurt provider's abilities, Jones said.
The Missouri Department of Social Services currently has a website survey open for child care providers that will collect information that may be used to determine future subsidy rates. The survey is open until Sept. 7 and can be found online at https://dssapp.dss.mo.gov/marketratesurv....
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