I currently serve as the director of Child Care Aware of Central Missouri, a nonprofit agency that covers many counties in the mid-Missouri region. We help families find quality child care, preschool and after-school programs for their children. We work with child care program owners, directors and teachers to improve the quality of their programs. We provide business and civic leaders with information on the value and importance of child care and collaborate with them to make child care safe and enriching for children.
With the economy beginning to turn around, working Missouri parents depend on child care to get and keep a job. Each week, more than 280,000 Missouri children under age 5 and 73,000 ages 5 to 14 are in the care of someone other than their parents because their parents are working, earning a living and contributing to the state tax base. A recent report released by Child Care Aware of America, "Parents and the High Cost of Child Care," examines the cost of child care for infants and 4-year-olds in child care centers and family child care homes in every state.
The cost of child care is high any way you measure it: against income generally, against other household costs such as mortgage or rent, food or utilities, and it is increasing. For an infant, the nationwide average cost of center-based care ranges from $4,600 in Mississippi to nearly $15,000 in Massachusetts. In Missouri, the cost is $8,580, based on data from Child Care Aware of Missouri.
Infant care is so expensive that it actually costs more than college in 36 states, including Missouri. It is no wonder that families struggle to afford the cost of child care. For families with two children, the cost of care can be as much as if not more than rent or mortgage payments. Yet, child care programs are not gouging parents or getting rich off these fees. Most programs are also struggling to make ends meet; many went out of business during the recent economic downturn.
All families should have access to quality, affordable child care to ensure that children are safe and in a setting that promotes healthy development. Unlike higher education, which is underwritten by some public financing to make the cost of college more affordable for families, there is no program-based public support for child care. Unlike some of Missouri's tax credits, which return only pennies on every dollar, investment in quality child care returns $10 for every $1 spent.
It is time to look more closely at the lack of financing for child care, as costs rise and an increasing number of families — not just low-income families — struggle to stay employed. To read the full report, go to naccrra.org/about-child-care/cost-of-child-care.
Joanne Nelson is the director of the central region for Child Care Aware of Central Missouri.