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BY: Joan Wright, Executive Director, Childcare Resources

June 28, 2012

I enjoy reading Birmingham News writer John Archibald’s articles. I like his wit and information. His latest article on the rising cost of tuition at public universities really struck a chord with me.

As someone who is about to incur the recently approved tuition increase at the University of Alabama – my daughter will be a freshman in August – I can relate to his case. But let’s take a look at a similar case that often gets less attention and even less financial support.

Every person that heads off to college was once a baby. Often times, that baby had working parents who needed to place their child in child care. (Nearly 60 percent of employed women have young children. Alabama Kids Count Data 2011 ) Yet unlike the 18 years one has to prepare for college expenses, parents have roughly 8 months to prepare for the expense of child care.

You may be surprised to know that there is not much difference in the cost of college and child care tuitions:

$6,461 for one year of infant care in Jefferson County (Childcare Resources’ 2011 Status of Child Care Report ) compared to $9,200 for the new annual tuition at UA. And if you’re lucky enough, you can get your college student out in four years but kids usually need child care for at least five years.

As Archibald aptly points out, the cost of college tuition has increased substantially over the years. Guess what? Child care costs have increased too. From 2003 to 2007, the average weekly cost of child care in a licensed facility in central Alabama increased 10 percent. From 2007 to 2010, the cost in Jefferson County alone increased an additional 22 percent. (Childcare Resources’ 2008 and 2011 Status of Child Care Reports)

Keep in mind that child care costs consume approximately 30 percent of a family’s household budget at a time when they are at the low end of their earning potential, have high costs related to caring for the child – diapers, formula, health care, etc., and there is little to no financial assistance available. Have you heard of a scholarship for an infant? No matter how cute and talented they are at that early age, they just don’t qualify. When a young adult heads off to college, they can apply for student loans and scholarships, and possibly work to help pay for their expenses. Not so for a baby or toddler.

In Alabama, there is little relief for working families who need child care. As a result of federal cuts to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Funds, states have fewer funds to use for child care subsidy. This means that many would-be eligible families cannot access financial assistance because the wells are dry. Alabama is affected even more with our current state budget woes.

Even Childcare Resources, who offers their own privately and publicly funded financial assistance program, has its hands tied when trying to help eligible working families in central Alabama. http://www.ccr-bhm.org/ Federal funding reductions and city budget cuts have resulted in the agency freezing its much needed Supplemental Child Care Program.

We know costs of goods and services have risen during the past few years. We also know that education is more often than not the key to a person’s success and ability to afford the goods and services they need and want. That’s what drives our economy. We also know that in order for children to succeed, they need a good start and quality child care is where they get their start. A child who can attend quality, affordable child care has a much better chance of getting to college and earning a scholarship to help pay for the increasing costs of a college degree. So if you want to help kids out, consider that quality, affordable child care is a worthy investment.

Childcare Resources helps families locate child care, trains child care professionals, provides parent education services, and offers child care financial assistance to low – income, working families. A nonprofit organization and United Way partner agency since 1984, Childcare Resources provides services to help make quality child care available and affordable in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby and Walker counties. For more information, call (205) 252-1991 ext. 305 or visit www.ccr-bhm.org.

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