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Addressing the Challenges of Child Care

As the White House Summit on Working Families draws near, we’re looking forward to this opportunity to highlight not only how crucial child care is to the success of working parents but also the challenges parents — particularly low-income parents — face in finding and affording high-quality care. 

While parents are at work, they think about how their kids are doing. They need the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment. They need to know that their children are developing the social and learning skills that they need to be successful in school and in life. In short, they need high-quality child care. Yet many parents cannot afford it. Full-time child care for one child can average $4,000 to $16,000 a year [PDF], depending on where the family lives, the age of the child, and the type of care. 

The cost of child care is especially burdensome for parents working low-wage jobs. Nearly one in five working mothers with very young children work in low-wage jobs and about one-third of these mothers are poor. These low-wage workers not only lack the resources to afford high-quality early learning programs but often have unstable and unpredictable schedules or work during nights and weekends. As a result, these parents can have difficulty enrolling their children in a child care center — centers generally expect children to attend on a regular schedule, and parents may not even be able to find a center open during their work hours. 

While being able to afford high-quality child care is out of the question for many families, unfortunately, so is receiving for child care assistance to help with the cost of care. Many states have restrictive eligibility limits — in 2013, a family with an income above 150 of poverty ($25,295 a year for a family of three) could not qualify for assistance in 14 states. Even those families who meet eligibility requirements do not necessarily receive child care assistance, as a number of states have long waiting lists. Families also may not receive child care assistance due to other barriers — for example, they may not have time to go through the process of applying for assistance, or their irregular work schedules may make it difficult for them to meet the eligibility criteria, or they may not even be aware the assistance is available. In fact, only one in six children eligible for federal child care assistance receives it [PDF]. 

High-quality and affordable child care is a key contributor to the success of the nation’s working families. When parents have reliable, high-quality care, they are able to gain and retain employment, which in turn enables them to earn the income they need to support and invest in their children’s futures. NWLC will be at the White House Summit on Working Families — and we’ll make sure that improving policies and increasing investments to ensure families have access to the high quality child care they need to succeed are part of the discussion.