Recession hurts child care center enrollment

Sara Peck

Tami Biordi noticed something different when she went through the wait list for the infant program at the Child Care Center of Evanston, where she serves as the program’s director. More parents, who were normally anxious to send their children to the center, said “no, thanks” than ever before.

“It’s really whittling down to almost nothing,” said the 10-year employee, explaining the recession’s impact on child care. “(Some families) just weren’t able to make ends meet.”

Across the country, 65 percent of child care centers have seen a significant increase in vacancies from the first half of last year, according to a 2008 study by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Of the facilities, which spanned 40 states, more than 74 percent of the facilities said the majority of their existing customers had trouble making payments on time or at all.

About 85 Evanston and Skokie families send their preschool-aged children to the Child Care Center of Evanston, paying anywhere from $1 to $280 per week depending on their income. Private agencies, such as the Child Care Center, have also noticed a “nonexistent gray area” between families able to receive subsidies and those who must pay the weekly fee of more than $250, Biordi said.

Some parents have begun to fall behind in their payments, prompting the center to implement a four-week payment plan for families, said Joy Torres, the Child Care Center’s coordinator. They previously had to pay at the end of every week.

The maximum a single-parent family can earn per month to qualify for subsidies is just more than $2,000. The center caters mostly to low-income, single-parent families, for whom subsidies are of supreme importance as the economy worsens.

“If they go literally one penny over, they go from paying $85 per week to $255 to $280,” said Biordi, adding that the state raised the maximum monthly income for subsidy eligible families last April, but she has not heard of any upcoming revisions of the policy.

“I think with the recession, that gray area is going to become more of a problem. I just don’t know how they’ll be able to raise it though, since there’s no money.”

A single mother with two children who makes about $30,000 per year could end up paying $27,000 per year for unsubsidized child care.

If a family is on the line between receiving subsidies and not, a ten-cent raise could make their child care costs skyrocket, Torres said.

“They have to ask their boss to cut back their hours or take away their raise, which some bosses will not do,” she said. “But for people who lose the subsidy and can’t send their kids here – what kind of care are they in?”

One sect of the industry shielded from the recession is district-funded before- and after-school care, said Amy Small, early childhood facilitator for Evanston/Skokie School District 65. Because the district receives substantial funding from the state for the program, families can receive a subsidized rate of $35 per week for before- and after-school care versus the regular rate of $105 per week.

Cost hikes or cuts to the program were never discussed, Small said, since enrollment has actually increased during the past two years.

“I think the district sees it as a need for families,” she said. “We try to keep the cost reasonable; we’re always here to support families.”

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