New CLASP report: job schedule volatility in low-wage occupations underscores need to increase access to flexible, affordable child care options

Today we have a guest post from Ray Noonan, a junior at Yale University who is currently interning at All Our Kin. Ray first joined All Our Kin as a Dwight Hall Summer Fellow in 2013. We are very thankful for all of Ray’s contributions to our work, and we hope you enjoy reading his thoughtful reflections on a recent report from CLASP.

When Lillian was connected with All Our Kin provider Nicole Richardson, Lillian had three young children to care for, a homeless shelter to live in, and a husband who had recently become incarcerated. She was also on track to earning her master’s degree in social work, and Nicole’s care was key to Lillian completing her studies and getting a job. But then Lillian’s car was stolen and her replacement vehicle’s engine blew out. Lillian lost her mode of transportation, threatening both her ability to pursue her education and her children’s access to stable, nurturing child care.

When Nicole and her son Akile heard of Lillian’s crisis, they stepped in to support Lillian and her family. Nicole opened her home as early as 5:45 am and stayed open late to accommodate Lillian’s schedule; Akile helped take Lillian’s older children to school. Their help brought stability to Lillian’s family. “It was a relief. I didn’t have to worry about who was going to pick them up from the bus stop, I was able to keep them in the same place, I didn’t have to worry about another transition,” Lillian said. She finished her degree and now works at a substance abuse clinic in Waterbury.

Nicole and Lillian’s story highlights the findings of a new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), “Scrambling for Stability: The Challenges of Job Schedule Volatility and Child Care.” The report details the challenges faced by people with inflexible or uncertain schedules as they search for care for their children. Few child care centers are open outside of a regular nine-to-five schedule, and most need consistent, full-time clients to cover their costs. As a result, workers with rigid hours, early and late shifts, or erratic scheduling have trouble obtaining high-quality child care, often instead struggling to string together a series of informal arrangements with friends or family.

As the report notes, low-wage workers are especially likely to face challenges in accessing affordable, high-quality child care. Almost half of low-wage workers have little say over their hours of work or work outside of typical weekday hours, and between 20 and 30 percent must labor overtime with little warning in advance. These practices make it difficult for low-wage workers to put their children in center-based care, which usually operates during regular weekday hours. They also cause week-to-week paychecks to differ greatly, burdening our poorest workers by making it uncertain whether they can pay for their children’s care. Those making less than $18,000 per year pay close to 4 of every 10 dollars they earn on child care.

A child in a family child care program

A child in a family child care program

To solve these issues, the report’s authors recommended a variety of policy solutions, including investing in “realistic child care options” such as family, friend, and neighbor care. These home-based providers can adjust to parents’ busy schedules more easily, making them more likely to be relied on by low-wage workers with inflexible schedules. These providers also offer personalized, loving environments within their own communities. But in the words of the report’s authors, they “too often lack sufficient access to education, training, and other services that would support them in caring for children.” The report’s authors recommend that “States…ensure that these providers can best meet the needs of young children by providing them the assistance they need.”

At All Our Kin, we’re very glad to be able to train and equip family, friend, and neighbor caregivers to become licensed family child care providers through the Tool Kit Licensing Program, a collaboration with the Connecticut Children’s Museum. We have found that licensed family child care providers like Nicole can bring much-needed reliability to people with unpredictable schedules, especially low-income workers. Supporting these caretakers is an opportunity to support the most disadvantaged and to help ensure that all children have the foundations for a successful life.

All Our Kin is determined to continue supporting family, friend and neighbor caregivers on the path to professionalization as well as licensed family child care providers such as Nicole so that they can provide stable, enriching environments to children of workers such as Lillian. We are delighted that CLASP recognizes the importance of home-based providers and hope that policymakers heed CLASP’s call for investment in this critical sector of the child care workforce.

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