According to the above-linked article in the New York Times, “child care costs have nearly doubled since the mid-1980’s.” This doesn’t come as much of a shock since food, gas, utilities and many other costs have also increased significantly. Families are working hard to get creative to keep child care costs down by using grandparents, after-school care programs, siblings, or parent-swapping (i.e., one parent stays home while the other goes to work and then when that parent comes home from work, the other parent leaves for work…which is obviously not very conducive to a successful married life, but the children are well-cared for). Sadly, the article tells us that “five percent of children ages 5 to 11 and 27 percent ages 12 to 14 regularly cared for themselves.”
The effects of increased costs of child care are the greatest for those living at or below poverty levels, but it also affects working-class and middle-income families significantly as well. Children from poor, low-middle income or disadvantaged families are more likely to have sub-par child care situations that will leave them grossly underprepared for school. Child care situations for these families can be unstable, making it difficult to have a stable source of income. Melanie Herzog, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund in New York, informs us in the NY Times article that “more families who are in deep poverty are paying 30 percent of their income for child care and more families who are below poverty are relying on government support to make ends meet for child care, and those subsidies are being dramatically cut.” This 30 percent of income spent is compared to only 8 percent spent by families not below the poverty line. To boot, not only are poor families making less and spending more on child care, they are also spending more on child care that is likely not going to prepare their child for school the way a child from a higher-income home will be prepared. From what I have seen in my 17 years as a parent, the old “you get what you pay for” certainly stands true for child care.
Some may say that’s just the way it goes for people born into certain circumstances. Some may say it’s “not my problem” that the poor can’t earn more and afford better care for their children. However, the reality is when these children arrive at school and are unprepared, compared to those who had adequate and appropriate child care, citizens’ tax dollars must then go towards special education and resource teachers to help the poor children get up to speed, Title 1 and English as a Second Language programs, high school drop-out retention programs, teen-mom programs, juvenile justice and delinquency programs, and prisons. In fact, the list for costs to society could go on and on.
To me, the direct correlation is obvious between lack of appropriate care when a child is developing the crucial social, emotional, language and sensory skills in the early years and an increased likelihood of being a special education/resource student, a high-school drop-out, a juvenile delinquent, or an inmate in one of America’s prisons. Children who don’t receive what they need, especially from birth to 3 years old, will end up costing the “system” much more in the long run than if appropriate and adequate funds were directed towards them and their families before the age of 3. What keeps me awake at night is wondering how many more children must suffer from experiencing inadequate child care in their early years leading to a life time of struggle and unfulfilled potential as a human being.