Lex’s Story: One Mother, Five Children, and Three Years on the Childcare Subsidy Waiting List
Like other working parents in Buncombe County, Alixes, or “Lex”, wants her children to be in a safe, high quality environment while she is at work. But as a mother of five children from ages 11 to 9 months, there have been times when she couldn’t find affordable child care arrangements so that she could work.
“It has been challenging to find childcare for my kids” she says with a good-natured laugh. She sought assistance from the child care subsidy program that helps working parents or parents in school.
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. Quality does matter in the early years: research continues to show that settings that promote healthy cognitive, emotional, and physical development can lead to better educational and social outcomes for children as they grow into adulthood.
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).
Four out of Lex’s five children were on the child care subsidy waiting list for two years or more. “My eight year-old never received the vouchers, and I signed my five year-old when she turned one,” says Lex. “We were on the waiting list with her for over three years. In fact, she was about to go into kindergarten when we got the notice that she was accepted for the vouchers. By then, we didn’t need the voucher for her any more.”
But she did need the child care subsidy for her three year-old that was still on the waiting list. Lex decided to participate in the Work First program, and as part of that program she received a child care voucher for her three-year-old. Work First Employment Services assists with training, work experience and supportive casework services to enable Work First participants to become self-sufficient and self-supporting. This publicly funded program is administered by the Buncombe County Social Work Services.
“Thank goodness for this program, because it got my daughter in daycare, and I was able to go back to work.”
Out of her five children, only one was able to receive a child care voucher during their early childhood years. “After being on the waiting list for so long with my other children, I just gave up trying.” With all of her other children in daycare and school, the 9 month-old is taken care of by her father. “It works out because he works nights, so by the time I get home, I am ready to take over.”
Soon after starting the Work First program, Lex was hired full-time at Children First/CIS as a Parent Involvement Coordinator. She works with parents who have children enrolled in the Children First/CIS afterschool Learning Center at Pisgah View Apartments, a public housing community. In the afternoons, she helps run the after-school facility with two other staff members. The Children First/CIS after-school Learning Center is a safe-haven after-school program that is free of charge to the families and is located on-site in the community. Lex is well suited for this job: “I understand what these parents are going through, because I have been through a lot of the same issues myself.”
Access to affordable, high-quality early childhood care and learning expands opportunities of for parents and children. By making investments in child care subsidy, the NC Pre-K program, Smart Start, and Head Start, we promote 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, 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.
* The N.C. Child Care Coalition