It’s almost cliché that parents dread summer break as much as kids look forward to it. For some parents though, the summer isn’t just a hassle – it’s a catastrophe.
For parents who are just getting by during the school year, summer means skyrocketing childcare costs – the difference between barely making ends meet and not making ends meet at all.
Mioshe’ Davis is a case manager at Housing Families First, where homeless families can get temporary shelter and support for a month or so while they regroup. The problem, she said, is ubiquitous among poor families – the parents need jobs but the children can’t just stay home alone. During the school year, children have a place to go for at least most of the day but once summer starts, the cost of childcare can be almost as much as a parent’s wages.
“There is no free daycare,” she said. “Daycare takes a huge part of their funds, even with outside help.”
Housing Families First is a 30-day shelter but, when needed, some families may stay for 45 days. Housing Families First helps them sign up for services and find jobs and then helps them move into their own permanent housing.
“We encourage them to get on the Department of Social Services daycare wait list as soon as they get here,” Davis said. “While they’re waiting, we have a funds available from a private grant so we can help them for two or three weeks.”
The Social Services daycare list is for parents with jobs only. A qualified parent can submit proof of employment and get daycare subsidized. But it only works for specific, approved daycare providers. Social Services pays their share directly to the daycare provider and the parent pays the rest.
“Families run into issues because they’ve still got to pay rent.”
“Social Services alleviates some of the financial burden,” Davis said. “When Mom or Dad gets a job, they bring in their hiring letter. But they have to take their kids to one of the approved daycare sites – there are a few of them in Richmond.”
Getting the kids to one of the approved sites is already an issue for the parents who don’t have cars. Being put on a wait list until a spot opens up is another problem. And then there’s the rest of the cost.
“One of our mothers recently got into a spot and Social Services paid most of the cost,” Davis said. “Her portion was only $70 a week.”
Seventy dollars a week is comparatively cheap for childcare that normally costs $150 a week for a baby or $125 a week for a toddler. And that doesn’t count the transportation cost of getting them there.
“None of the agencies anywhere has enough money to offer free childcare and childcare is the biggest obstacle our families have to getting and keeping jobs.”
A single parent who makes minimum wage earns $290 in a 40-hour workweek. Without subsidies, one child’s daycare can easily take up half. For a parent with more than one child, the money is gone before it comes in. And working more hours just adds to the childcare costs.
“Families run into issues because they’ve still got to pay rent,” Davis said. “They’ve still got to buy food and gas and electricity. They need to pay for things other than just daycare.”
One single mother in the Housing Families First program has been unable to keep a job because she hasn’t been able to keep up with daycare costs and scheduling.
“That’s just something that our families face on a daily basis,” Davis added. “They all have the same issue with it.”
While parents might be tempted to try leaving older children home alone while they work, that’s not allowed at Housing Families First. Parents have to be with their children at all times, unless they submit letters from other program families stating that they’ve worked out babysitting arrangements.
“That’s something some of them do,” Davis said. “We’ve got five families right now, all single mothers. Some of them have arrangements worked out to look after each other’s children while they’re working.”
And the fortunate ones have more than one adult in the family who can help. Two parents can sometimes juggle their work schedules to take care of children. Grandparents, aunts and uncles also sometimes step in to help with childcare.
“No one has enough money to offer it for free and many families never make enough money to afford it easily, even when it’s reduced.”
“But it’s always hard,” Davis said. “None of the agencies anywhere has enough money to offer free childcare and childcare is the biggest obstacle our families have to getting and keeping jobs.”
Private grants do help though. Housing Families First uses its grants to subsidize childcare, just as Social Services does, until a parent gets off the Social Services waitlist and into a daycare spot. Davis is also working with a local church preschool to offer subsidized daycare for her families.
“But childcare is never free,” she said. “No one has enough money to offer it for free and many families never make enough money to afford it easily, even when it’s reduced.”