Jon’s Story: A Single Father’s Success Equation includes NC’s child care subsidy

DSC_0095Jon Brown is the single father of two young boys, Bentley, age 3 and Brantley age 2. He has full custody of his two young boys and lives with his mother and brother in a small 3 bedroom house.

Jon is 22 years old, and a high-school graduate. He always planned on continuing his education, but after his second son was born, his relationship ended with the mother and he found himself the sole caregiver of his toddlers. “It was a catch 22” says Jon. “I couldn’t get child care vouchers because I didn’t have a job, but I couldn’t get a job without child care. So I stayed home with my sons so I could take care of them.”

After a few years, Jon decided his sons were at a good age to enroll in an early childhood care and learning center, and he needed to continue his education. He enrolled at A-B Tech.  “I realized if I didn’t get back in school, I’d get stuck. It was time to start my life again.”

But he couldn’t afford the cost of an early childhood center without some assistance. Since he was a student, he was now eligible for the child care subsidy program. He signed up and was put on the waiting list. “I was only on the list for 5 or 6 months. I don’t know what I would have done if it had been a longer wait.”

North Carolina’s child care subsidy program uses a combination of state and federal funds to provide subsidized child care services to eligible families through a locally administered voucher system. The NC Legislature votes each year on the budget for this program and also sets the amount each county receives. The cost of early childhood care and learning in Buncombe County can exceed $700/month. For many working families in Buncombe County, a child care voucher is the only way they can afford a high quality setting for their child.

Unfortunately for families across North Carolina, the waiting list for the child care subsidy program remains high. The North Carolina legislature has not kept funding up with costs and demand resulting in 24% less children being served than 2008-09. Waiting lists across the state grew to about 30,000 this last year – resulting in wait times over 18 months in some counties. Buncombe County serves about 2,500 children with the subsidy program per year (including school-aged children).

After receiving notification that he was approved for the vouchers, Jon was told he had two days to secure child care for his two boys. “They called on a Monday at 3:00 and told me that I had to have my selection by Wednesday morning.” He stayed home from school and called every listing in the book. “I was on the phone for two days straight.”  He started with the 4 and 5 star childcare centers, but as time ran out, he was calling every available option. NC’s quality rating system uses a scale of 1-5 stars, – 5 stars being the highest.

“Of course I wanted the best for my boys, but by the end of the second day, I would have accepted any place that had an opening.” This is the choice that many parents have to face due to a lack of openings in centers.

His luck changed when he found Children’s Center at Gracelyn, a five-star facility in North Asheville. “It’s a great place—I can’t believe my luck when they had 2 openings.” It has been many months since he enrolled the boys in the facility, and he can see a positive change in their behaviors, cognitive skills, and social acclimations.

“The boys absolutely love being at the center. They are more knowledgeable because they are actually being taught, and not just sitting around.”  The data supports the anecdotal evidence that Jon has observed: a Smart Start evaluation by the University of North Carolina showed that children birth to five who attended child care centers that were very involved in Smart Start activities were more prepared for kindergarten.  Children who attended quality preschool were 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and continue on to college, than their peers who did not attend, and were less likely to repeat grades.

With the help from the child care subsidy program, Jon has access to high-quality early childhood care and learning for his sons. Jon can focus on school and acquiring new skills to help stabilize his family. He recently secured a part-time job. “The cost for both kids would have been $1,400 a month. I now pay $200. Even with a full time job at minimum wage, I wouldn’t have been able to afford childcare.”

* Providing access to quality child-care is fundamental in producing thriving children, as well as a thriving community. The availability of child care subsidy increases employment, job retention, workforce productivity, the growth of large & small businesses, & NC’s tax base. Businesses that employ low-wage workers also benefit. Children receiving child care subsidy are able to access quality child care that research indicates produces an unparalleled return on investment (as much as $17 in future savings per $1 spent).

This story is part of a series collected by The Success Equation, an initiative that unites community to reduce and prevent poverty so all children can thrive. Partners include the Cathedral of All Souls, Girl Scouts Peak to Piedmont, Junior League of Asheville, Just Economics, Innovative Partners International, InnovoGraph, Searchlight Consulting, Smart Start of Buncombe County, Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation, and YWCA. To find out more go to find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.

 State legislators make important decisions that affect a parent’s ability to secure quality early childhood education for their children. To find out how to register to vote and other important voter education, go to: www.VoteBuncombe.org

* The N.C. Child Care Coalition 

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