Domanica Ede: Legislators, fund home-based child care

When legislators think about the childcare sector, they must be mindful of family childcare as well as childcare centers. For many families, childcare centers are unaffordable and hard to access. Home-based care is often more affordable while offering the same standard of care. But too many times, when changes are made in the childcare sector, family childcare, or home-based programs, are an afterthought.

I’ve always believed that home-based centers are devalued, but after a recent order from state officials, I’m convinced. Ohio is one of a handful of states that reimburses at the 25th percentile. The federal government ordered the state to reimburse at 50%. That sounds good on its face, but Ohio policymakers are looking to do this on the backs of home-based providers. For instance, after being ordered to increase reimbursement rates, state officials decreased the number of children home-based providers could serve while also decreasing incentives for Type A and Type B centers. This unfortunate change will result in a pay cut for home-based childcare providers.

The state can meet federal mandates and hold home-based centers harmless. And they should. Family childcare providers have consistently stepped up and cared for children, families and community members. When our state shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, home-based centers provided a stopgap for essential workers so they could work. Not only did we remain open, the state also asked us — and we obliged — to increase our license capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state recognized our efforts and temporarily paid home-based providers the same as childcare centers. If they did that then, they can do more for home-based providers now. Doing so would help children, families and providers alike.

Currently, the childcare sector is struggling to attract and retain talent. And things are worse in Ohio. Given that our state reimburses in the lowest percentile, providers struggle to get and keep good people. Those who are still in this profession are underpaid and barely surviving. If we cannot get and retain staff, we are unable to serve the entire population of children and families who need care. That harms our families as well as our communities.

I don’t want state officials to take the easy way out. For context, the state of Ohio announced a series of changes to its Step Up to Quality program. The changes were a result of a federal government mandate for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to increase reimbursement rates to childcare providers in Ohio. But to increase the rates, the state is decreasing incentives to its historic Step Up to Quality program. By decreasing incentives, home-based providers will receive a pay cut.

I agree that reimbursement rates should be higher. I also believe the state should provide subsidies to families that are at 200% of the federal poverty level. This would allow more families to receive publicly-funded child care. From my own personal experience, I know that there are so many families who qualify for childcare assistance and yet they are denied. Many of the children with and without disabilities in Ohio will not receive the appropriate early childhood education that they rightfully deserve without increasing the poverty line threshold. This cannot continue. We can serve children and families without harming home-based providers. Policymakers could help all of us without compromising any of us.

Broadly speaking, the U.S. loses $122 billion each year in economic productivity and revenue due to the lack of childcare. Ohio has an opportunity to create a childcare system that meets the needs of children, families, communities and childcare providers. But it cannot do this without home-based childcare providers. And it cannot keep home-based childcare providers if it consistently makes them the scapegoat for policy inaction.

Parents, early learning providers and program administrators are overwhelmed, overburdened and under-resourced — and everyone is feeling the pinch. Childcare is a crucial component of our country’s economy; it’s the work that makes all other work. Policymakers should invest like they believe this; that’s the only way to make our state great.

Domanica Ede is the founder and director of the Safe Haven Child Care Center in Lima and is a member of the CEO Project. Her column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.