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County has more kids than child-care slots
Friday, April 13, 2012
Jennifer Smith Richards
Good-quality child care can be difficult to come by in Franklin County.
For every available slot at a child-care center here, there are three children, according to a report being released today. In parts of Columbus — the Northeast Side, for example — there are about five children for every available space.
And considering only the accredited child-care spaces, there are six kids for every spot countywide.
“Demand far outstrips supply, particularly for the quality or accredited centers,” said Roberta Garber, the executive director of Community Research Partners, which conducted the study. Even if families in which one parent doesn’t work are excluded because they are less likely to need child care, there are still two children for every spot.
Action for Children, a nonprofit Columbus group that makes child-care referrals and works to strengthen the quality of care and early learning, commissioned “Progress Made. Ground Lost,” which paints a picture of struggle for many families. It was funded by the Columbus Foundation.
There are about 99,000 children younger than 6 in the county, census figures show. That’s an increase of more than 6,000 between 2000 and 2010.
The number of children younger than 6 who live in poverty doubled during that decade, from about 14,800 to nearly 30,000. About 52 percent of children live below 200 percent of the federal standard for poverty. For a family of three this year, that would mean the total family income is no more than $38,180 annually.
Good child care and preschool experiences are important, particularly for low-income children, said Diane Bennett, the CEO of Action for Children. Young children living in poverty know fewer words than their wealthy peers, she said. Early-childhood education can help develop vocabularies.
The study also found that nearly 48 percent of Franklin County children younger than 5 are part of a racial or ethnic minority group.
A recent study criticized Ohio because it has cut funding for, and thus access to, publicly funded preschools for 3- and 4-year-olds. Fewer Ohio children are enrolled in high-quality preschools than were a decade ago.
Some state programs that paid for young children who live in poverty to attend high-quality preschools also were cut in recent years, as were federal subsidies; that might have depressed the supply of child care.
Bennett said that, despite the supply-demand issues, there are more high-quality centers than there once were. And parents are checking online to see whether there are complaints about a center and noting whether centers are accredited.
“When I first started, families were making child-care decisions based on cost, location and baby-sitting. It’s heartening to see they are also aware of quality,” she said.
Among Action for Children’s recommendations in response to the findings: Focus on the areas of the county where demand far outpaces supply; create need-based scholarships for child care; streamline the child-care subsidy process; improve training for child-care professionals, particularly in working with foreign-born and minority families; and educate parents on the importance of high-quality early-childhood education.