As I was exploring the topic for this blog post, I decided to turn to the Facebook group “Mutual Aid Tompkins” to get the local scoop from Ithaca parents and caregivers. This question was the very first response to my post asking about personal experiences with free/low-cost childcare in Ithaca. The semi-sarcastic comment from a local parent gives an honest look into the harsh reality of affordable childcare options in the Ithaca area.
Is there such a thing as free or low-cost childcare in Ithaca?
The price of raising a family
From both a local and global perspective, childcare is one of the most daunting financial burdens families face. A 2018 survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times shines a light on this nationwide problem. Sixty-four percent of men and women ages 20 to 45 who said they had expected to have fewer children than they considered ideal reported the expensive cost of childcare as a factor. For those who stated they didn’t want to have children/weren’t sure, 31% cited “can’t afford child care” as a reason. Young adults are being swayed away from the prospect of child rearing due to cost.
The exorbitant price tag of planning a future life becomes even more dismaying when paired with job considerations. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) permits some employees to take up to 12 weeks of maternity leave. But not only is the leave unpaid, only 60% of workers are eligible for it. The good news is there are eight states – including New York – that have passed their own family leave laws. New York’s Paid Family Leave Benefit Law allows employees to take 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of their newborn or adopted/fostered child.
But what happens after 12 weeks? Having a stay-at-home parent just isn’t as common as it used to be. U.S. Census data indicates that among married couples, only 23% of moms and 3% of dads stay at home with their children.
Childcare is a necessary investment for any working parent. Danielle Heavens-Soda, a mom in the Ithaca area, shared her struggles with balancing her family’s finances and childcare options. She described her search for affordable childcare as a lengthy and stressful ordeal requiring compromises she was less than comfortable with making. Discussing her choice to briefly send her daughter to an unregistered daycare due to cost, Heavens-Soda emphasized, “no parent should have to choose price over safety or comfort.” She explained that her wife’s new, higher-paying job allowed her family to eventually find reasonably affordable daycare, but she admitted not all families are so lucky.
“I have 2 separate debts related to childcare expenses and a current monthly bill. My kid is 3 and 1/2 and I have spent thousands of dollars to be able to work in a full-time job.”
– Anonymous mother in Ithaca
Another local mom opened up about her own childcare-related hardships. “I have 2 separate debts related to childcare expenses and a current monthly bill. My kid is 3 and 1/2 and I have spent thousands of dollars to be able to work in a full-time job,” she said. Her experience is not unique.
One in six families with children under the age of five earns an income below the poverty level in Tompkins County. Providing child care assistance at a reduced price can help relieve the financial burden many families in our county are experiencing.
Benefitting the community and businesses
Providing free/low-cost childcare not only benefits the community, it also benefits businesses that choose to offer these services. After collaborating with a local school, Coddington Road Community Center’s child care program received a stipend to cover the cost of childcare training/work so scholarships were more available to families. Engaging in a mutual exchange opens up opportunities for families and businesses alike without the heavy weight of financial consideration.
Providing a service that is so greatly needed by the community makes businesses stand out. The YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County is one of the only locations nearby that offers “free” childcare. It’s only free if you’re a member and costs six dollars per hour for non-members. As other businesses jump on the bandwagon, they will be opening their market to a new population of people: parents/caregivers who can fully enjoy the perks Ithaca has to offer without worrying about their child care situation.
What to consider when offering childcare
ChildCare.gov offers sound advice for what to consider when looking for quality childcare. Important suggestions include supervision at all times, properly trained staff, a clean and safe play environment, warm and welcoming energy, and clear and written rules/plans.
Our children are our future. We should be investing in them. Coddington Road Community Center summed up its philosophy in an insightful way, expressing that proper child care should “promote each individual child’s social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive development.”
Spread the word
Share the benefits of free or low-cost childcare on social media by sharing the YouTube video, PDF toolkit, or social media images below!