Working Families and Child Care in Alabama
Online survey of working families conducted between May 18, 2020 and June 2, 2020
Alabama Partnership for Children (APC)
The APC offered the survey through multiple child care and workforce partner agencies as an online assessment of working families’ child care needs. The results offer us direction about what is needed to safely open back up child care, what families need, and concerns about returning to work and child care.
Prior to the pandemic, recent reports indicate that in “normal” times, there is a child care shortage in Alabama. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report, Child Care Gaps Assessment: Alabama (April 2020), reports 214,150 child care slots needed based on children under 6 with all parents in the workforce. This was calculated during a time when Alabama had historically low unemployment and an estimated need for 500,000 newly skilled workers by the year 2025, according to the report of Alabama WORKS, Preparing Alabama’s Workforce for Opportunity and Growth. The report identified lack of access to child care as one of the top three barriers to labor participation and/or attending school or college.
The Gaps Assessment identified every available source of child care and provided an estimated 128,959 available slots – showing a gap of 85,554. Even when considering families who don’t access child care outside of their homes, having family members provide care or paying for “nanny” care in the home, we know that the steady reduction of child care slots available requires us to build and now re-build this necessary workforce support.
As reported by VOICES for Alabama’s Children in the Kids Count Data Book, between 2010 and 2019, the total number of licensed child care programs has gone from 2,340 down to 1,698. The heaviest loss is with Family Day Care Homes, providers who are licensed to care for up to (6) children in their homes. This is often the only option for rural families where there are not enough children to fill a child care center. There were 844 of these providers in 2010, and that number had shrunk to just 428 by 2019. Because 75% of Alabama is considered rural, an estimated 60% of children under the age of five live in child care deserts – census tracts where there is no child care or only enough to serve one-third of the need. Yet, for low- and middle-income families, the cost of child care is often up to 30% of household income, in some areas more than college tuition.
This was before the pandemic. A national survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) during April 2020, found that in Alabama, 90% of programs that responded were closed entirely, and an additional 5% were closed to everyone except essential personnel. Of the few programs open, all reported operating with less than 50% capacity. Also, 55% reported laying off or furloughing employees or reported being laid off or furloughed themselves. Another 33% anticipated such actions being necessary in the coming 1-2 weeks. This was in April, and we know that may programs have closed permanently.
The challenges of opening child care programs so that working families can return to work are multiple and have no easy solutions. Extra cleaning, extra equipment, limited numbers, and difficulty obtaining any of the needed supplies are the primary concerns, along with the critical concern of opening with limited enrollment and reduced funding.
View the full results here.