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Fewer southwest Ohio child care providers are accepting vouchers from low-income families

Could decline stall region's economic recovery?
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 17:37:53-04

SILVERTON, Ohio — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lakisha Best knew exactly how to help.

She moved her Best Early Development Center to a larger location in Silverton to accommodate more parents with jobs as essential workers.

“I’m an essential worker, too,” she said. “Being an educator, it’s important to me that the children still had somewhere to go that was quality and where the parents would feel comfortable.”

Parents of the children in her care include food service workers, health care aides and sanitation workers, she said. And 85% of them receive government subsidies called Publicly Funded Child Care or PFCC -- more commonly known as vouchers -- to help pay their child care expenses.

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Lakisha Best

“Child care is hugely expensive. Because of that, it is important that we as a society make it easier for parents to get out there and work,” Best said. “There’s a lot of parents that want to work. There’s a lot of parents that want to go to school. But if we don’t give them the opportunity, then they won’t be able to take it.”

For low-income parents across the region, however, those opportunities are shrinking.

The number of southwest Ohio child care programs that accept PFCC vouchers decreased 11% between December 2019 and December 2020, according to research conducted by the nonprofit organization 4C for Children. During that same time, the total number of child care programs in Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties decreased only by 3%.

“The predictions early in the pandemic that there would be 30% to 40% loss of programs have not come to fruition,” said 4C for Children CEO Vanessa Freytag.

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This boy is one of the more than 30 children who attend Best Early Development Center in Silverton.

“What’s of concern is that programs that accept children from families who are getting help from the state to pay for care – that loss has been dramatically more than an overall loss in programs,” Freytag said, possibly because overwhelmed providers didn’t want to contend with the extra paperwork that comes with accepting the subsidies. “These are the programs that take care of children from hard-working, low-income families.”

‘The workforce of the workforce’

Bryana Thomas is one of those hard workers.

She has two little boys, works full time and goes to school in the evenings. She receives a PFCC voucher that helps cover her sons’ care at Best Early Development Center while she works as a teacher in the infant room there.

“It helps a lot of mothers who aren’t able to have babysitters and things of that sort,” Thomas said. “If we can’t go to work then we can’t pay our bills so I think the vouchers play a really big role in that.”

Thomas began working at Best Early Development Center last September about the same time her sons began going there for child care. She had been working as a home health aide but liked the idea of working for Best, Thomas said, because she has been thinking of possibly opening her own child care center someday.

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Bryana Thomas

Now she’s learning the ropes from Best while pursuing her degree.

Getting more people interested in starting child care businesses is one of the ways 4C for Children hopes to address the decline in places that accept PFCC vouchers in southwest Ohio, Freytag said.

“Child care is the workforce of the workforce,” Freytag said. “We already have families that are struggling to find child care and yet we also know that many parents that lost their jobs, that lost those lower-income jobs, have not yet returned to work. So we also know that if we want to have an economic recovery, those families need to have a place for their children to go when they’re at work.”

Quality child care is critical, she said, and 4C offers help for everything from licensed, in-home care to launching center-based programs like Best’s.

“Child care has many parts to it,” Freytag said. “In addition to working with wonderful, resilient, fantastic children, you’re also doing something very, very important to the health and strength of your community.”

‘We make the world go round’

Best said that’s how she feels about her work.

“What society didn’t know is that we, as child care providers, we’ve been essential,” Best said. “We make the world go round.”

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These school-age children spent their spring break at Best Early Development Center in Silverton.

Best said she believes providing quality care to families of all income levels is an important part of that work.

“In my past, while I was going to school, I was a recipient of vouchers,” Best said. “I have children and so that was hard. It’s a stepping stone.”

Best makes sure parents like Thomas know she can relate to how hard they’re working to provide for their families, she said.

“We’re going to make sure that we provide them with the best quality possible, as are other private child care centers, so that they can feel comfortable and know that while they are moving on to their career ladder or to the next step that they don’t have to worry about if their child is in a safe, nurturing place,” she said.

“Regardless of what their pocketbook looks like, we want to make sure that we’re still able to provide them with quality education,” Best said. “That is truly my heart, and that’s what we really do.”

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Best Early Development Center in Silverton.

4C for Children helps parents find quality child care throughout the region. Visit its website for more information. The organization also has an Early Childhood Education Job Board on its website to help fill the many open positions at child care centers across the Tri-State.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.