OKLAHOMA CITY – Almost 3,500 licensed child-care facilities operate in Oklahoma, but they’re concentrated in the metropolitan Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. Consequently, rural areas of the state suffer from a lack of child-care facilities.
In addition, recruitment of child-care providers is difficult because of the long hours and comparatively low compensation rates.
Child care is a critical issue to employees who have young children, and to parents who hope to further their education at state colleges/universities or Career Technology centers.
These were among the key issues presented last Tuesday (September 15) to the House Committee on Children, Youth and Family Services during an interim legislative study requested by House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City.
Lesli Blazer, director of Child Care Services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said Oklahoma has 3,483 licensed child-care facilities (1,545 centers and 1,938 homes) that collectively have approximately 19,000 employees and are licensed for nearly 125,000 children.
All of the facilities in Oklahoma are rated on a scale of 1 star to 3 stars, Blazer said. A 1-star facility has the minimum license/permit, while a 3-star facility meets all of the 1- and 2-star criteria and is nationally accredited or meets Head Start performance standards.
The average Oklahoma child-care facility has a 2-star rating, but more than 200 have achieved the maximum 3-star rating, Blazer said.
Cost, time and the effort required for advancement are factors that determine whether a child-care center opts to seek a higher rating, said Dr. Teresa Berg, an adult career development coordinator at Tulsa Technology Center.
Dianne Juhnke, director of Early Childhood Services for the Community Development Support Association based in Enid, said a lack of sufficient child care has an adverse effect on the economy. Business owners/operators in western Oklahoma tell her “they can’t bring in business because there’s not enough child care” in rural areas.
Research conducted last year by the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association, which serves Canadian County and the northwestern quadrant of the state, indicated that almost two-thirds of the 678,000 children in Oklahoma aged 0-12 have parents who work outside the home.
In order to be profitable a child-care facility “has to be of a certain size,” Juhnke said. That might mean 30 to 40 children, when only 15 or 20 who qualify are in the community, she said. Consequently, many parents in rural areas depend on relatives, neighbors and/or friends to watch their young children while the parents are at work or in school.
Another factor to consider is the demographic changes occurring in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the Southwest. Not only does the Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association assist families searching for child care, and provide technical assistance to community members and child-care providers, its duties also include Hispanic outreach to assist Spanish-speaking families and providers
Cimarron County has only one child-care center, and Medford, in Grant County, had 78 child-care “slots” in 2008 but now has only 33, Juhnke said.
“It’s difficult to recruit people go into the field of child care,” because of the hours, the licensing requirements, and the compensation, Juhnke indicated. Employee turnover is high: 30 percent to 40 percent, Blazer said.
The study by the Child Care Resource & Referral Association revealed that a vast majority of the parents surveyed (who included hospital workers and Wal-Mart employees) need their children tended to on “non-traditional schedules”:
§ before school, 6.1%
§ after school 13.5%
§ 24-hour, 3.1%
§ evenings, 40.4%
§ overnight, 9.3%
§ weekends, 27.6%
A document distributed by Juhnke shows that 58 percent of the licensed child care facilities in Oklahoma accept subsidies from the DHS.
Those subsidies vary widely, the House committee was informed. The subsidy for a toddler at a 2-star facility is $28 per day. For an infant, subsidies are $18/day at a 1-star facility, $36 a day at a 3-star facility, Blazer said.
In the recently completed Fiscal Year 2015, child-care providers received subsidies for more than 58,670 children, an average of 32,332 each month, Blazer reported; approximately 3,500 of those children were in foster care, she added.
A little over $124 million was paid to child-care providers in FY 2015, Blazer said. Of that amount, 21 percent came from state funds, 52 percent was derived from a child care development fund block grant, and 27 percent came from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funding.
“Access to affordable, quality child care in rural and urban areas alike is critical to businesses and to families,” Inman said afterward.
“Issues we need to pursue,” he said, “include how those facilities are funded, ways we can provide greater subsidies for low-income families, how we can help counties that are struggling to recruit child-care operators, and boosting reimbursement rates for child-care providers, which have not been adjusted for nearly a decade.”
NOTE: This is adapted from a press release distributed by Mike Ray of the Oklahoma House Democratic Staff.