In an age where it’s common for both of a child’s parents to be in the workforce, finding available child care options for the youngest children in the area can prove challenging.
More than 7 in 10 children under age 6 in the River Parishes have all available parents in the workforce, according to a 2014-2018 American Community Survey. While 68 percent of children under 6 had all available parents in the workforce, this was true for 71% of children under 6 in St. Charles Parish, 81% in St. James and 70% in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Despite widespread labor force participation among parents with young children, the combined capacity of all of the licensed centers in the River Parishes (2,640) is far surpassed by the number of children ages 0 to 4 in the River Parishes (7,267). There are only enough seats in centers to serve 36 percent of children ages 0-4.
“I would say, on average, it’s fairly typical for Louisiana parishes to not have enough available seats to serve all kids in the parish, and one of the main reasons for that is child care is just not affordable for many state residents,” said Jennifer Roberts, CEO of the Agenda for Children advocacy organization. “For infants to 3-year-olds, it would cost almost $15,000 a year to put them into a licensed center. To put that in perspective, the median income in St. Charles Parish is $72,000 a year, so you’d be spending 20 percent of your income on child care alone.”
That becomes a major problem for lower income families. Roberts noted most try to make due how they can, such as asking a family member to care for the children during the work day, but when that isn’t available, it can really put someone in a bind.
“You see people actually become underemployed. They may take part-time jobs because they can’t get child care to co-exist with their schedule for a full-time job, or maybe they take a lower-paying position so that they can make the schedule work,” Roberts said.
It’s a need the St. Charles Parish School District has taken steps to alleviate, with programs like the Early Childhood Network, a collaboration of 10 childcare programs, public and private, serving children from birth to age 4, including special education children. In 2019, the district added 120 additional spots for its Pre-K program as well, and features a before and after school child care program for children grades Pre-K through fifth grade.
It’s also a cause Roberts and Agenda for Children has taken on, the oldest child advocacy group in the state at 37 years.
Agenda for Children offers several services in the River Parishes. The Child Care Resource and Referral department supports the 40 early learning centers in the region, providing group workshops, onsite and virtual coaching, mini-grants and monthly directors’ network needing. The organization assists families with finding childcare that meets their specific needs.
“We really work to increase access to high quality early care and education, connecting families with child care centers, teachers and policy makers. It’s all an effort to improve the well-being of children and their families,” Roberts said.”
The onset of COVID-19 created a new landscape, but even for those working from home, there can be issues, Roberts notes.
“I think COVID’s really shown us how hard it can be to juggle your work at home while caring for your children at the same time,” Roberts said. “And for those out of work, it’s hard to actively seek work if there’s no safe, quality place for a child to be during the day. There are burdens unique to the pandemic itself, so we’re stepping up to see if there’s anything we can do.”
Part of that is making families aware of assistance that could be available. Roberts noted the Department of Education has been able to garner additional funds through stimulus, so for the first time in many years, parents may receive childcare assistance while job hunting.
“There are more resources available than have been previously,” she said.
One may call Agenda for Children at (504) 586-8509 or visit the group’s website, agendaforchildren.org, for assistance and resources.