Worried, overwhelmed, stuck — that's how some Illinois moms describe the challenges they face trying to find child care. A research report released Wednesday by Illinois Action for Children captures the experiences of families in Cook County who have some of the hardest-to-meet child care needs. Report co-author Marcia Stoll says Illinois Action for Children found that a lack of child care can destabilize employment, finances and overall family well-being. She says that more than half of families didn't have a support network to fall back on, and some had older children who were providing a substantial amount of care.
"Like, one had a 16-year-old, and one weekend, instead of being with friends, she had to go watch her sister," Stoll relates. "Just drawing on other family members to fill in gaps if those family members had their own obligations, and it wasn't easy for them to step in and help out when they did."
Some of the common challenges to finding child care that parents reported included care during nonstandard hours, care for children with special needs, finding care near home, and affordability.
The report has several recommendations to help improve access including increasing the income eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program and the DCFS child care programs.
Stoll adds that child care providers also need supports, such as training and tools to better serve families.
"Providers already are working on thin margins and can barely pay the teachers that they have, and so then meeting families' needs for children with special needs or providing transportation that's just something they don't have the funds to pay for," she states.
During the window of time that families searched for child care, they faced other life challenges including mental health issues, medical problems, homelessness, and adapting to a new culture.
Stoll contends a child care system is needed that is responsive to the unique needs of families.
"As we're designing a system and figuring out how we're going to improve funding, we need to look holistically at families," she stresses. "And we hope that the governor's Early Childhood Funding Commission will address some of these needs as they're thinking about how to improve funding for early childhood education."