Advocates for working families say the child-care crisis is undermining the stability of many households in Ohio.
At this week's meeting of the Ohio Children's Legislative Caucus this week, Chelsea Kiene, director of communications and stakeholder engagement for the group Groundwork Ohio, shared polling that confirmed that child-care challenges have disrupted the jobs of one in three working parents, affecting their workplace attendance and performance. Among those with kids age 5 and younger, Kiene said one in four parents had to cut back on work hours to care for them.
"If the pandemic of the last two years has been a tipping point, then the Omicron variant of the past month has really been a breaking point," she said, "especially for parents of children under the age of 5 who aren't in school and aren't able to get vaccinated."
In the poll, 80% of Ohio voters said child care is expensive in their community. Currently, center-based infant care is roughly $10,000 a year, 43% of a single parent's income.
Availability is another challenge. Last year, one in eight child-care jobs was lost in the pandemic.
Lois Rosenberry, president of Children's Discovery Center, with six locations in northwest Ohio, said they've had to turn families away because of severe staffing shortages. Rosenberry said some end up not returning to work, while others juggle telecommuting and caregiving.
"When parents can't find child care and work from home," she said, "many times these young children are losing years by not being stimulated with age-appropriate activities that provide the foundation for learning and later success in life."
Ohio lawmakers appropriated more than $700 million from the American Rescue Plan, specifically to stabilize the child-care system, which Kiene contended is just a start. Beyond today's workforce, she said, longer-term investments are needed in the future.
"Children, when they are in quality early-learning settings, they are more prepared for kindergarten, which is the biggest predictors in how they perform," she said, "not just throughout their academic careers and their post-secondary attainment, but also how they do in their careers and in life."
It's estimated that child-care challenges cost Ohio's economy $1.7 billion a year.
This story was originally published by Ohio's Public News Service.
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