Support for parents seeking child care

Jason Addy
West York KinderCare, a child-care center at 1540 Rodney Road, is a Keystone Star-certified program with four stars. The center serves around 80 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years. Amanda J. Cain photo

Many parents in York County struggle to make ends meet after paying off bills for housing, utilities, food, health insurance, transportation and, in many cases, student loans.

Adding the cost of child care for one or more children often can be enough to break the bank for many families in the area.

Several programs in place at the state and national levels, along with local initiatives, can provide some sense of relief for York County families who need a hand to get their child into a quality child-care program.

Resources: Pennsylvania offers child-care subsidies to low-income families through a program called Child Care Works, which is administered through each county’s child-care information service agency.

Child Care Consultants, York County’s child care information service, provides subsidies for about 2,800 children and services for nearly 12,000 children in the county, said Christy Renjilian, the nonprofit agency’s executive director.

To be eligible for subsidies from the state, parents must work or attend an educational program for at least 20 hours a week and earn 200 percent or less of the federal poverty income guidelines. A family of four earning less than $48,600 a year would be eligible for help through Child Care Works.

The state also grants subsidies for early education programs through the Pre-K Counts program, which provides high-quality half- or full-day pre-kindergarten programs in schools, child-care centers and preschools, according to the Department of Human Services.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $65 million increase in the program’s state funding for the 2017-18 fiscal year, while he also has asked the Legislature to invest another $10 million in the Head Start program, which is primarily funded by the federal government.

The $75 million increase would allow 8,400 more children to enroll in the early education programs, Wolf has said, providing a platform for them to be better prepared for their academic and professional careers.

Wolf proposes $2 billion in cuts during budget address

Diane Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, said the availability, or lack thereof, of affordable high-quality child care in the state will have economic consequences now and in the future.

Child-care providers allow today's parents to continue working and providing for their families, Barber said, but high-quality child care can give today's children a better chance in "tomorrow's workforce."

"If we want to build our economy, we need workers," Barber said. "We need today's workforce, and we need tomorrow's workforce."

Renjilian said Child Care Consultants also sponsors a food program for children and adults, much like free and reduced school-lunch programs. The agency also helps child-care providers with menu planning to provide nutritious meals to the children they are serving, Renjilian said.

Regulations: The state has more than 200 regulations in place for child-care providers covering basic health and safety issues – such as peeling paint and uncovered outlets – staff-to-child ratios, policies and procedures, health records and staff qualifications and certification, said Tanya Vasquez, director of the Bureau of Certification, the state’s child-care licensing agency.

The state designates three types of child-care facilities, Vasquez said, each of which comes with its own set of regulations.

Family child-care homes can serve up to six children unrelated to the provider, while group child-care homes, which can be operated out of a residence, church or storefront, can serve up to 12 children at once, Vasquez said. However, group facilities also have requirements that each child must have 40 square feet of space, Vasquez said.

York County had 239 certified child-care providers as of September, more than half of which were classified as child-care centers. These centers typically operate out of commercial buildings and serve more than seven children, though many care for more than 100 children each.

Neither Vasquez nor Renjilian were able to provide an estimate on the number of uncertified facilities operating in the state, but both encouraged parents to do their due diligence when trying to find a child-care provider.

Renjilian said she strongly advises parents and family members to visit their potential child-care providers’ facilities to see how the children interact with the staff, to get to know the directors and to get a feel for the program.

The state Department of Human Services has an online directory of child-care providers on which parents can look up inspection reports, violations, license suspensions and complaints lodged against registered child-care facilities.

With a quick search on the site, parents can ensure a program has met the state’s basic health and safety requirements, Renjilian said. The search also identifies programs that are certified in Keystone Stars, the state’s child-care quality-rating system.

Parents should consider enrolling their children in a Keystone Stars-certified program, Vasquez said. While state inspections ensure a facility is meeting basic health and safety standards, Keystone Stars show that a facility has established a higher level of quality, Vasquez said.

“I would encourage parents to look for the quality programs who are participating in our Keystone Stars program, because they have shown that they are meeting the quality that the state desires for our most vulnerable early learners,” Vasquez said.

Local center: West York KinderCare, a child-care center at 1540 Rodney Road, is a Keystone Star-certified program with four stars. As a four-star center, West York KinderCare must maintain a higher percentage of teachers holding degrees, said Michele Farleman, the center’s director.

The Keystone Stars program ensures a higher quality of engagement with children and communication with families, while providing assessment tools and training to teachers, elevating certified programs above the Department of Human Services’ minimum standards, Farleman said.

The center serves about 80 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years and employs 18 people, almost all of whom are certified teachers, Farleman said.

To stay in compliance with state regulations, child-care providers must employ one teacher for every four infants, five 1-year-olds, six 2-year-olds, 10 preschool-aged children and every 12 children kindergarten-aged and older.

Farleman said parents often find child-care centers more attractive than family child-care homes because there are more people around to keep an eye out for problems.

“They appreciate that (employees) are not in it alone,” Farleman said. “They like the classroom feel, that there’s always more than one set of eyes on their child. It builds that security that nothing bad would happen within our walls.”