Family

Child care in Alabama: An issue guide for voters

In April of 2022, Reckon and partners including Essential PartnersCortico, and Bridge Alliance, hosted conversations with Alabamians under 40 about the future of their state for a project called Bridge Alabama. This guide focuses on an issue raised in those conversations.

Here is one of the comments that inspired this reporting. From Brittany at our April 30th session:

There are wait lists for daycares, after school programs. To even get your child into a program, if you don’t have access to, for example, my husband and I, we make too much to qualify for certain benefits, but we don’t make enough to send our kids to the school and the highest tuition, which may have openings. I don’t think a lot of them do, but we are not in the bracket to be able to afford childcare or get the help we need for childcare. So there is a huge gap, and I think that’s a lot of us. I would say, even the majority of people that are working, whether they have one or two-parent households, they make too much, but they don’t make enough, and it is such a struggle.

We’re not being heard on that, because not only is there little to no information about programs that are available, the ones that are available are chocked full.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many Alabamians lived in a childcare desert – a place without enough child care slots for the number of eligible children. Then the pandemic exacerbated problems that already existed, creating a shortage of workers and forcing closure of some programs and a scaling back of others.

In Alabama, two-thirds of children under age 6 have all available parents in the workforce. But a 2019 report found that no congressional district in Alabama had licensed child care slots for more than 40% of its eligible young children.

And the number of licensed child care programs in Alabama has been shrinking for years. There were 2,340 licensed programs in 2010, but only 1,855 by 2021.

This has made it more difficult for Alabama families to find quality, affordable child care near their homes and workplaces. It’s also an economic problem for the state, keeping Alabamians – especially women, who often bear the lion’s share of child care – out of the workforce. A report from the Women’s Foundation of Alabama found more than half of unemployment claims in January 2021 were filed by women, and that women cite child care as a top barrier to workforce participation.

The South is also a place where childcare workers are paid less than the national average, even when wages are adjusted for cost of living. That has made it difficult for program directors and owners to find and retain staff.

“The thing that’s hard for people to understand about child care is that it’s a business,” said Pam Tatum, president of child care advocacy group Quality Care for Children. “No one is getting rich, but (child care providers) have to make enough money to keep the doors open, and they have to make enough to pay themselves and their staff. People think of it as a community service. If we’re going to educate our children through a small business, we have to treat it like one.”

Who is working on solutions?

Alabama-based advocacy organizations particularly focused on child care and related issues:

- VOICES for Alabama’s Children, alavoices.org – This organization provides research, public awareness campaigns and lobbying efforts for children and family-centered legislation. VOICES also co-publishes the annual Kids Count Data Book in Alabama.

- Alabama Partnership for Children, alabamapartnershipforchildren.org – A public-private partnership focused on improving outcomes for children form birth to age 5 in Alabama.

- Women’s Foundation of Alabama, wfalabama.org – A statewide non-profit that focuses on research and advocacy around issues affecting women, including strengthening child care.

- Alabama School Readiness Alliance, alabamaschoolreadiness.org – A non-profit coalition dedicated to expanding high-quality, voluntary pre-K programs.

- Alabama Arise, alarise.org – A statewide non-profit organization focused on a variety of issues facing Alabamians, including child care and family supports.

How do I find child care?

Alabama Family Central is a one-stop resource that allows you to search for child care providers as well as for support services in areas like mental health, food insecurity, disabilities, medical care, parenting assistance and more. The site’s search function offers filters for specific ages of children and for categories of services.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources keeps an online Day Care Directory where you can search options by county and by type of child care (such as day care center, family child care home and group home). It also gives the option to search for licensed child care, which meets state requirements and passes inspections, or unlicensed, which does not.

Is there a federal or state funding/financial assistance available?

Alabama families with low and moderate incomes can qualify for financial aid to help afford child care, called a child care subsidy. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the number of children who’ll be enrolled in day care, and financial aid is offered on a sliding scale depending on income.

Information and applications for subsidized child care are available on the ADHR website here.

Is there legislation we can support?

Advocacy groups lobby state legislators each year for improved funding for Alabama child care providers and early-education programs. This funding comes through the state budget, so it’s important to keep track during the legislative session about how much money legislators are willing to invest in child care.

Bills aimed at regulating or deregulating child care in Alabama are filed in the state legislature each year. One way to keep tabs on these bills is to sign up for notifications from child care advocacy groups. Another is to search for child care bills on the Alabama Legislature website here. Click “Search Text of a Bill” and type in key phrases like “child care” or “daycare.”

On a national level, Congress has passed federal relief packages in recent years that dedicated funding and other resources to child care providers. But as pandemic-era relief winds down, that funding is no longer support that providers can rely on.

Further reading from Reckon:

A child care crisis worsened in the pandemic. Meet the Southerners working to fix it.

This Alabama advocate offers solutions to child care system flaws.

How do we fix child care in the South? These 5 advocates have thoughts..

The Reckon Report.
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