The front page of the Sunday Missourian on Sept. 1 featured a super article, “New child care law has unintended consequences.”
I read with amazement about the short period of time child care providers have to adjust to a new law limiting and redefining the ratio between the number of workers and children being watched.
However, my wife had already learned about this new law (or at least about its real life consequences), as her friends had been lighting up Facebook: Alarms of moms being blindsided with sudden word that their kids had to be kicked out of their care facility, and one in-home day care provider who decided to just call it quits.
I ran into another mom since who said her son’s day care sent out a letter that he still had a spot but fees were going up, justified by the fact that this new law required them to hire more workers to watch the same number of kids.
The Missourian reported numerous examples of day care operators, including one who had “to turn away children she has been looking after for years.”
It seems particularly challenging for some providers who were previously able to watch their own kids and/or grandkids on top of paying customers.
Now having to count their own as taking up the legal maximum number of spots, they are torn by having to turn away paying kids (and therefore take a pay cut). Or maybe worse: kicking out their own kids to focus on paying customers to survive economically.
This, on top of the perplexing fact that day care was already a chronically undersupplied service. Parents have routine difficulty finding any place, of any quality, at any price.
One provider said, “Spots are so hard to find that people are planning years out ... We have people calling us before they’re even pregnant to reserve their next infant spot.”
Now with legally-imposed increased scarcity, supply goes down, prices go up and this hits lower income families the hardest.
I remember a coworker years ago, a working class mother who told me she would like to have a second child but is holding off until her daughter is in kindergarten because she can’t afford to pay for two kids in day care at once.
Middle and upper-middle income families tend to suck it up. Wealthy families can hire a private nanny.
I talked to a friend of mine who manages a day care center. He said it’s hard finding and keeping good employees. It’s not easy work. There’s 40% annual turnover. Some young people use it as a career steppingstone.
We have laws against hurting or neglecting kids. There is a case for basic regulation of this sensitive industry to attempt to prevent the general conditions under which the risk of a dangerous outcome might be increased. But it sounds like this law clearly misses the mark.
Advocates for this law, however, seem indifferent to the plight of those they have so suddenly impacted.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who sponsored it, said, obey the regulations regardless however imperfect, or else good luck with the waiver process.
Robin Phillips, CEO of Child Care Aware of Missouri said, ”We’ve turned this corner on this new law. We have to now focus our conversation on access to care and supply.” So grin and bear it.
Craig Stevenson, director of policy and advocacy for Kids Win Missouri, who stumped for this legislation said, “When the dust is settled, fewer kids are in unsafe settings.”
However, part of the concern expressed by those interviewed in the article was the reality of costs going up and fewer spots for their kids. So more kids being shifted from licensed to unlicensed centers. And from unlicensed providers to no care: one parent had already resorted to her son becoming an unsupervised latch-key kid after school now.
I hear that some unlicensed providers might react to the squeeze of this law by going black market and ignore these new quotas altogether, while parents assume otherwise.
Meanwhile, with the day care market now further hindered, there might be more pressure to accelerate the continual trend toward universal public preschool programs.
One actual silver lining might be that more parents might rethink the rat race, choosing to spend their days providing primary care for their own children. It's a challenging vocation, but it can offer something more valuable than cold hard cash.
Keep telling these stories about how everyday working families are hurt by ill-crafted laws.
Legislators got an earful about it from constituents last week in a hearing during their special session. Good — perhaps this law can be overhauled come January.