Summit County commissioners discuss immediate solutions to address child care shortage
Summit County commissioners are looking to find more immediate solutions to the county’s child care problem as a waitlist of 620 children grows.
The commissioners spent their work session meeting Tuesday, March 1, listening to updates on the county’s Head Start program, which helps low-income families with children ages birth to 5 navigate the child care system. The No. 1 issue for Head Start families, as with all families with young children in the county, is access to affordable child care as demand grows and spots continue to fill up.
Last week, Caroline Schaaf, program director of Early Childhood Options, said the county’s waitlist for child care was 620 and growing. While the county is looking to open more child care centers, commissioners said there needs to be more immediate solutions, especially for families who don’t need child care five days a week.
In the meeting, commissioner Tamara Pogue suggested that Early Childhood Options and the Head Start program look at ways to create a family-centered neighborhood care system. The idea is to build a network of trusted, unlicensed adults who provide child care from their homes in neighborhoods throughout the county.
“Finding child care providers, even if they do not need to be in that licensed environment, is nearly impossible,” Pogue said. “I know this from personal experience.”
While online software like Care.com provide a similar service, Pogue said the costs often far exceed what a family that is struggling to find child care can afford.
“I just wonder if we could, as a short-term way to alleviate some of the stress, look at family-friendly neighbors and how we at least enable families to make connections with service providers in a way that feels safe for families and also providers,” she said.
Commissioner Josh Blanchard agreed with Pogue’s idea. Blanchard said he often sees people advertising child care in Facebook groups or on other forms of social media. The commissioners said they’d like to see that kind of network be formalized and vetted so families could be confident in the care they’re receiving.
Schaaf said the organization is supportive of the strategy, which they’ve tried before but without much success.
“I’m trying to really reach out and say, ‘We want to talk to you. We want to provide trainings for you. We want to get a group or cohort together that are family-friendly providers,’” Schaaf said.
Schaaf said the organization would like to be a resource for at-home providers while also creating a group for them to work together and bounce ideas off one another. She said Early Childhood Options could ultimately help those providers pursue a path toward licensing.
However, Schaaf and her team have been met in the past with resistance from neighborhood providers who often want to remain under the radar. The program worked the best during the pandemic, when families shared child care duties while centers were closed, said Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options.
The commissioners encouraged Early Childhood Options to look into ways to provide more marketing around family-friendly neighborhood care. Pogue said she’d like to avoid having more parents finding child care providers on social media or organizations like Care.com.
“I do wonder if some kind of a platform that would safely let parents post what they’re looking for and would also safely let providers scan through it and match themselves” would be possible, Pogue said.
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