The State of Child Care in North Carolina

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By Emily Hagstrom

On August 28th, Governor Roy Cooper announced an Executive Order to “develop an action plan to improve early childhood outcomes” for North Carolina children. In this document, the governor highlighted children’s health, early learning, and safety as priority areas for action.

But essentially, every moment a child spends interacting with the world is a moment of “early learning”.  As the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University notes, child development is an interactive process; children are born with ability to learn communication, social norms, how to control their emotions and impulses, etc. Without the guidance and consistent, appropriate interaction of a caring adult, it is very difficult for children to properly learn the basics of how to function in a society. Further, according to the Urban Child Institute, the literal function and organization of a child’s brain is impacted by a child’s early experiences. That’s why high quality child care is so important to children’s early learning.

However, according to the most recent data, the average cost of child care for infants in North Carolina is unaffordable for families with annual incomes under $100,000 (as per the Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordable). While North Carolin does provide child care subsidies to families in the form of vouchers, 26,608 children are on the waitlist in North Carolina for child care assistance. So here at Women AdvaNCe, we’ve decided to provide a more detailed analysis at the state of child care in North Carolina.

Average Annual Cost of Child Care in North Carolina
Infant Center $9,254
FCC $7,412
Toddler Center $8,387
FCC $6,959
4 year old Center $7,920
FCC $6,548
School-aged child Center Before/after school $3,275
Full Time Summer $1,679
FCC Before/after school $2,994
Full Time Summer $1,462
Source: Child Care Aware of America

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, affordable child care should make up 7% or less of a family’s income. Yet, the average cost of sending an infant to a child care center is $9,254 per year in North Carolina (one of the United States’ cheaper states for child care). If families are looking to save a couple thousand dollars money, they can always consider family child care (FCC), averaging $7,412 per year in North Carolina. That means that a family would have to have an income of about $105,000 or more to afford the average price of family child care in North Carolina for their infant. Child care costs for toddlers, four-year olds, and school-aged children can be found in the chart below.

 

With child care costs as high as these, it can be tempting to assume that child care centers are charging too much or overpaying their employees. However, the average pay of a child care worker in North Carolina is $22,080 annually. For some perspective, that’s not enough for a child care worker to be able to afford care for their own child—and is below the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Fortunately, federal and state policies provide assistance to families struggling to afford child care. While North Carolina was once a leader in state-funded child care assistance, policy has changed greatly in the state over the past decade. From 2006-2013 alone, about 15,100 children lost child care assistance. Today, of the children who qualify for child care assistance, 26,608 children are on the waitlist in North Carolina.

So you might be wondering—what exactly does child care assistance in North Carolina look like?

To qualify for child care assistance in North Carolina, a family of four must have an annual income of $40,176, or 68% of state median income. This assistance is provided in the form of vouchers that detail the amount the state will pay towards eligible forms of child care, and designate a co pay amount for the family.

The co pay for a family of three with an income at the poverty line ($20,420 annually) who receives child care assistance in North Carolina is $170 per month, or 10% of their income, and the co pay for a person with an income at 150% of poverty level ($30,630 annually) is $255 per month, or 10% of their income. These co pays are more than families should be paying for their child care to be considered “affordable” by the Department of Health and Human Services. North Carolina’s monthly child care subsidies also only allow North Carolina families to access the top 50th percentile of providers in their community in places like Mecklenburg County—well below the nationally recommended standard that child care assistance allow families to access the top 75th percentile of care providers in their community.

The state does allot parents already receiving child care assistance to continue to do so for up to 90 days if they experience a change in employment. However, a family, parent, or guardian who is unemployed cannot begin receiving child care assistance during their job search.

These policies are mainly determined by North Carolina’s state Budget, generally proposed finalized in the early summer months (late May, early June). For North Carolinians hoping to affect child care policy, paying close attention to the budget and preparing advocacy for that time of year is generally a good rule of thumb.

So, there you have it—the state of child care in North Carolina. What are your thoughts on these policies? How do they affect your daily lives? We want to hear from you.

For parents looking for more information about finding child care providers and accessing child care assistance, follow this link to the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education.

For parents and teachers looking for more information about child development, follow this link to learn more about the stages of early learning and tools to support your child.

 




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