State assistance for child care workers is a ‘life-changing’ benefit for caring for their own kids

In Smithfield, Rhode Island, child care provider Marci Then, 32, observed two 4-year-olds at her Little Learners Academy center in a gentle competition over a play kitchen plate. “Are we sharing?” she calmly inquired. The toddlers promptly released the item.

Then, a mother herself, oversees her own daughter, Mila, 4, among a dozen other children at the center. While Mila addresses her mom as “Miss Marci” at school, at home, she switches to “Mom.”

Mila often interacts with another caregiver at the facility, following the guidelines prohibiting parents from directly supervising their children in a regulated environment. However, she had the chance to accompany her mother during a tour for a reporter on that particular day.

Mila enthusiastically announces her age and then joins in tidying up toys to prepare for a tranquil circle time with the other children.

Then disclosed that without the support she receives, she would struggle to cover the $315 weekly fee for Mila’s attendance at Little Learners. Thankfully, a one-year state initiative allows the utilization of federal resources to cover child care costs for early education workers’ children, a transformative program for Then, a single mother caring for a disabled young adult she adopted. Without this assistance, she mentioned, she would need to significantly readjust her life.

In 2022, Kentucky revamped the employer child care aid program to encompass child care staff at all income levels working a minimum of 20 hours weekly. Following Kentucky’s example, several states, such as Rhode Island, have introduced similar initiatives. The Kentucky scheme was slated to conclude on September 30, but the state is extending it using a blend of federal and state funding.

According to EdSurge, approximately six states have implemented comparable programs to support child care employees or are contemplating legislation for such offerings.

Advocates, spanning across party lines, assert that supporting child care personnel not only benefits employees and facilities facing workforce scarcities but also contributes to state economies. For many individuals, the lack of accessible child care serves as a deterrent to entering the workforce.

Charlene Barbieri, the founder of four Little Learners Academy sites in Rhode Island, highlighted the arduous nature of recruiting and retaining qualified staff at child care centers. She expressed gratitude for the child care subsidy program, emphasizing the invaluable aid it provides.

“Early learning is notably costly, right?” Barbieri remarked. “Hence, any supplementary financial or non-monetary programs yield tremendous advantages.”

She added, “Numerous educators have informed us that, absent this program, they would be unable to afford child care services for their children while concurrently supporting their families by augmenting their income.”

Rhode Island legislators incorporated the child care subsidy into the state’s fiscal 2025 budget earlier this year, transitioning the initiative from a trial to a permanent fixture. Governor Dan McKee, a Democrat, is anticipated to sign the budget imminently.

Rhode Island state Reps. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, left, and Grace Diaz, both Democrats, confer this month over the proposed budget, which includes funding of a program to subsidize child care for caretakers’ kids. (Elaine S. Povich/Stateline)
Democratic state Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith and Grace Diaz emphasized the pivotal role of the child care subsidy program in Rhode Island’s economic landscape. They expounded on their firsthand experiences as mothers and child care center proprietors during a candid discussion within a legislative forum.

Shallcross Smith, a proprietor of 15 child care centers, highlighted the program’s multifaceted benefits for both the state and business enterprises.

Diaz, a mother of five, recounted her conversation with Speaker Shekarchi, acknowledging the crucial role that a tangible representation of children played in influencing lawmakers’ decision-making. She stressed the collective impact and significance of the program for Rhode Island.

A woman and her son on a playground.
Child care worker Kayla Champagne watches her son, Jaxson, 3, climb at the Little Learners Academy in Smithfield, R.I. (Elaine S. Povich/Stateline)

On the premises of Little Learners, care provider Kayla Champagne, 39, relishes watching her 3-year-old son, Jaxson, engage in playful activities. Champagne, a mother of four, acknowledged the financial relief offered by the subsidy program, which supports her in providing for Jaxson’s care.

Transitioning to Little Learners from her previous child care job, Champagne expressed appreciation for the staff who facilitated her enrollment in the state subsidy program, enabling her to maintain full-time employment while caring for her children.

Rhode Island Current journalist Nancy Lavin contributed to this article.

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