Over the past several years, more single parents with children, mostly women, have joined the workforce (Ford, 1995). As a result, childcare has become an extremely important social policy issue. Many single parents, particularly those with low incomes, find it difficult to finance the cost of decent childcare.
In addition, poor quality of childcare has become an increasingly significant problem in the United States. Low wages for childcare workers result in high turnover and inexperienced childcare providers.
As more and more single parents have moved, by necessity or choice, from the home into the workforce, the need for affordable, quality childcare has become a crucial social issue. However, this need often goes unmet. As a result, there is an enormous impact and cost placed on single parents.
Recent research reveals that 71% of parents reprimanded for child neglect did not have enough money to pay a babysitter (CEED, 1992). In addition, only 11% of parents referred for child neglect have access to childcare services. One study reveals that 67% of single mothers say difficulties locating decent childcare interfered with their finding and keeping a job. Also, 76% of single mothers eventually gave up looking for work due to childcare difficulties.
Due to the pressures on single parents and the lack of affordable quality childcare, many single parents are forced to put their children in inadequate, or possibly dangerous, childcare settings. In addition, nearly seven million children are left unsupervised after school, contributing to increased rates of drug use and crime among the children in the U.S.
Goals and Objectives
Many single parents find that there are few available childcare facilities that allow them to meet their individual and family's needs (Ford, 1995, p. 213-218). In many cases, there are few available jobs that allow them to pay for good childcare When a person is alone and has children to support, part-time work at minimum wage does not provide enough income to pay for rent, groceries, children's clothing, and good childcare.
In many states, the average annual income for part-time work is about $16,000. However, even if a single parent with two children works full-time at minimum wage, she will spend 98% of her annual income on food and shelter alone. The lack of quality and affordable childcare makes single parents feel like they are prisoners of social assistance.
As single parents are raising more and more children, affordable, quality group and family childcare services are becoming less and less accessible to families (National Women's Law Center, 1999). Quality childcare is expensive and often beyond the financial resources of single parents, particularly those with low incomes.
While recent federal legislation has made efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare, there remains a large gap in the availability of affordable childcare in the United States.
Because the impact of the quality and cost of childcare on single parents is increasingly become a social problem in the U.S., the goal of this paper is to address the problem at hand and brainstorm for ideas to relieve the pressure of single parents. This paper aims to identify the key aspects of this issue and pinpoint the two areas of childcare that need immediate attention -- quality and cost. This paper also aims to identify potential solutions to the problem.
Significance of the Problem
In the U.S. childcare expenses range between $4,000 to $10,000 a year per child, which can be a prohibitive factor for single parents, especially those with low incomes. According to CHN (2003), "more than one of every four families with young children earns less than $25,000 per year, while a two-parent family in which both adults work full time for minimum wage salaries earns a combined income of only $21,400 a year." At these rates, childcare expenses often cost one third or more of the entire household budget.
For single parents, childcare costs can pose a significant barrier to entering the workforce. In many cases, single parents to have a hard time finding affordable, safe care in close proximity to their homes or work that meet their scheduling requirements.
Even if single parents are able to find a childcare program that is affordable and meets their individual needs, there are faced with another problem -- the quality of childcare. Many affordable childcare solutions have unsafe environments, including unsanitary conditions and a lack of supervision.
These factors pose significant threats to a child's well-being and cognitive development. A recent study estimated that 7 out of 10 child care centers provide mediocre care, and that one of eight are so bad that they threaten the health and safety of the children that attend them.
Basically, single parents face a double-edged sword when it comes to childcare. If they manage to find affordable care and come up with the money to pay for it, they often must settle for low quality care.
For this reason, many single parents are reluctant to work or attend school because they fear the effects of poor childcare on their children. Many others are forced to pay half or more of their incomes to send their children to quality childcare places.
The cost of childcare today is so high that has had a prohibitive impact on single parents, leaving them with little choice in how their family is managed (CEED, 1992). Even for those with higher incomes, finding quality childcare is difficult, reducing options for these parents as well.
If quality childcare were affordable and available, many social problems would be solved. For one, single parents who wanted to work would not be forced to stay home because of their lack of options (CEED, 1992).
Also, single parents would not need to spend great amounts of their income on childcare, leaving money for a better lifestyle. In addition, single parents would have the freedom to choose the quality and style of childcare they wish for their child.
The American culture promotes the rights of all individuals to live their lives freely. Therefore, equal access to quality childcare is a key factor in having freedom of choice of lifestyle for single parents.
One of the first steps that must be taken to resolve this social issue is to increase community involvement. Stronger linkages of programs to community agencies and organizations could be highly effective in reducing the costs of childcare, while improving the quality. Government agencies alone cannot be expected to solve this major problem alone. Communities must increase the efforts and put pressure on both the government agencies and childcare facilities.
Another important aspect of community involvement is creating more family-friendly workplaces. To assist local school districts and community organizations in strengthening collaboration, federal, state and local government agencies and community groups must act together to promote cooperative services and to develop greater capacity to provide comprehensive childcare services for single parents.
Mobilizing the Media and Officials
Community involvement also involves getting reporters out in the communities to listen and report. If each community is able to attract the interest of reporters and get them to print stories on the problems involved with childcare, a wider network is opened and more opportunities for change are presented.
Federal, state and local government officials can help communities improve their childcare services and offer support to single parents with young children by initiating systematic efforts to support local change. These officials can help solve this social problem by removing obstacles created by inefficient funding patterns and restrictive regulations, and by mobilizing other sectors, including business and the media, to make the needs of single parents with young children a high priority.
Federal agencies can help by establishing opportunities to create a more efficient delivery system for childcare services. State agencies play an important role, as well, as they establish the framework for community action. In addition, state agencies provide support for affordable childcare and quality control. Finally, it is up to local agencies to size up the problem, mobilize communities, and get results.
Solutions and Policy Recommendations
There are a number of solutions that could benefit single parents who are hindered by a lack of quality, affordable childcare. Services such as part-time childcare, infant care, and after-school facilities are often unavailable in communities yet would provide tremendous benefits to single parents.
Quality of care is a major concern for single parents, who often cannot afford expensive childcare solutions. There are a number of programs that could assist in this area if social policies were implemented to make quality childcare a mandatory requirement in all states. New social policies could require that training must be a requirement for local childcare centers. In addition, childcare internships for students would allow more help at childcare facilities at no additional cost.
Universities and large corporations could provide a major relief for single parents by partnering with local childcare facilities to offer childcare services at a reduced cost to their students and employees. Perhaps, these organizations could even allocate space for a childcare center to cater to…