Leslie Ela: Strengthening childcare strengthens families

AS A WORKING mom of a 2-year-old son with another on the way, my husband and I feel the impacts of the child care crisis facing New Hampshire.

In my professional life, I provide care coordination to military families, helping them find local, state, and federal resources for a broad range of needs. A common request we get from military families is to assist in finding child care. I wince every time this request comes in, because I know how difficult it is to find that care right now.

Active military and full-time National Guard members in New Hampshire can get child care assistance, but only a small portion of child care centers accept the assistance. Even when a center accepts it, military families, like all families, must sit on long waitlists — centers are not holding spots specifically for military families.

Many families end up accepting any available spot they can find, meaning they are forced to forgo the child care fee assistance benefit they are entitled to. Those that rely on the benefit can experience months of waitlists, gaps in care, or one parent is forced to exit the workforce.

It is frustrating and heartbreaking having to tell families that their options are so limited, especially for families who have a parent deploying. This transitional period comes with a number of additional stressors and responsibilities for the caregiver at home. Without adequate childcare and community supports, both family at home and the deployed service member struggle to fulfill their responsibilities.

On a personal level, my family has our own child care story. After maternity leave ended, we were fortunate enough to have a full-time nanny in our home for more than a year (this was in the height of the COVID years). She was wonderful, and it helped immensely having her in our home.

After she left, it took us almost two months to find a replacement. The new nanny proved to be unreliable and potentially unsafe for our child. While searching for a nanny we had also been added to more than 20 waitlists at child care centers in our area. Over a year later, I think we’re still on 20 different waitlists — the centers just never called.

Last summer, after four months without reliable child care, we finally got our son into a child care center near our home. Eight weeks later, the center announced it was permanently closing due to a lack of staffing, leaving us and dozens of other families (with more than 150 children) scrambling.

We were fortunate to get our son into another center right away — but this one was 30 minutes away from the house. I work primarily from home, so this meant over two hours of commuting each day to get him to and from the center just to end up back at the home office. When the opportunity arose, we moved him again into a new daycare that opened closer to home. If you’re counting, that’s three different child care centers and two different nannies in less than a year. Those transitions affected our jobs, our financial stability, our stress levels, ability to keep up the home, and, most importantly, time with our son and each other.

If you’re wondering what our plan is with our new baby — well, so are we! We finally have our 2-year-old in a place we all love, but our provider does not take infants. Our goal is to keep our son where he is, but this means we will be piecing together multiple child care providers. This is a happy time for us, but knowing we are about to start all over on patchwork childcare is incredibly stressful.

I hope, not only for my family, but all the families I work with and meet in New Hampshire, that something is done to improve access and affordability to child care options in the state.

A bill in the Senate, SB 237, would invest in the child care workforce through grants to child care providers. This would allow child care centers to retain more staff, reopen closed classrooms, and serve more children in New Hampshire. It is imperative that families like mine, and those I work with, have reliable childcare so that we can continue to work and serve our communities. I urge lawmakers to invest in child care that New Hampshire families, the workforce, and our children can rely on.

Read the full article on The Union Leader

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