Finding Child Care Is No Easy Job for U.S. Parents
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today we tell about an issue facing America’s working parents. If both a mother and a father are employed, who will care for their young children?
A half-century ago, most mothers of young children in the United States did not work outside the home. But life has changed. The United States Census Bureau said that in two thousand two, sixty-four percent of mothers with a child under age six were in the workforce. If the father also works, the need for child care is clear. The same is true if a parent is single.
Sometimes grandparents or other family members watch over children. But most working parents must pay for care. And they often have to pay a lot. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says child-care costs for a full day begin at about four thousand dollars yearly. Many families pay ten thousand dollars yearly per child – and more.
The Urban Institute is an economic and social-policy research organization. It reported in two thousand one about working families in America. The institute said nearly half of families with a child under thirteen spent about nine percent of their monthly earnings on child care. The poorest families spent twenty-three percent.
Some parents employ a person to supervise children in the parents’ home. This person is often called a baby sitter or a nanny. Sometimes this care provider lives with the family.
Au pairs are foreign care providers. They live with families while supervising the families’ children.
Some care providers open their own homes to one or more children. These, and other, children’s centers must meet the requirements of local and state governments. For example, a care provider can supervise only a limited number of children. The number depends on the children’s ages. Care centers must show that they are protected against fires and other dangers.
Yet once parents find a place, they cannot be sure they will stay. The care might not be as good as they hoped. Or the cost might increase. Or the parents might even be asked to take their son or daughter elsewhere if the child often bites or hits other children.
Child-care companies and religious organizations operate some of the daycare centers and preschools in the United States. Organizations like the Y.M.C.A, the Young Men’s Christian Association, provide daytime child care in many cities across the country. These programs serve children from the earliest years to as old as students in middle school.
Care for school-age children is also provided at public and private schools before and after normal school hours.
Other organizations mix daytime activities for older adults with daytime care for children. One such organization is called ONEgeneration. This nonprofit community group is in Van Nuys, California. It serves older adults and young children in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.
A ONEgeneration center for older adults is next to its daycare center. Older people who volunteer visit the daycare children in the afternoon. They sit and hold the babies and rock them back and forth, as they might do with their own grandchildren.
Private companies and government agencies also offer childcare. This lets a working mother or father be near their sons and daughters during the day. For example, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, looks after employees’ children at several centers. These places accept children ages six weeks to three years.
The N.I.H. centers are operated by a child-care company in cooperation with the children’s parents. The parents of children in the full-day program must help in the centers for three hours a month. If they cannot do so, they must pay an additional amount for their child to attend. Help from parents in such cooperative centers helps keep costs down.
The General Services Administration has more than one hundred ten child care centers in federal buildings. These centers are in thirty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. At least half the children in the centers must have parents employed by the government. Any places not filled this way go to the general public.
Young children in good preschool programs learn to identify common objects. They study letters and pictures to help prepare for reading. They learn songs. They play games that use numbers and maps. Many children’s programs include activities to help them get to know the wider world. For example, children visit zoos, museums and fire and police stations.
At age five, most American children attend free kindergarten in public schools. Many American kindergartens now require skills taught in early education programs.
Jan Forbes of Rockville, Maryland, works in two centers for young children. Missus Forbes is paid for teaching music in one center. She gives her time to the other center, which serves more poor children.
The teacher says good child care and preschool centers are important to prepare children for their school years. She notes that kindergarten classes once placed major importance mostly on social development for school. But today most kindergartens teach basic educational skills.
Missus Forbes says early education helps children develop good relationships with adults. At the same time, children learn to cooperate with other children. She praises the activities of preschool life as helping develop responsible and happy children.
Head Start is the national preschool program for poor children. The goal is to prepare them for the educational system – and life in general. But these programs cannot serve all needy children.
Getting good child care that provides early education can be very difficult for poor families. The Census Bureau says there were thirty-seven million people in poverty in two thousand four. The poverty rate was twelve and seventh-tenths percent, up two-tenths of one percent from the year before.
Now there are worries that money needed to rebuild areas hit by Hurricane Katrina could take away from early education and child care.
Parents often criticize the price of child care. But daycare operators say many parents do not understand all the costs involved. These include food, drinks, toys, videos, games and crafts. They also include wages, taxes, insurance, transportation and things like cleaning supplies.
One person said on a child-care Web site, "we providers are in this line of work for love of kids -- not money!"
Low pay is a major reason the industry has to replace many workers each year. Currently, the lowest pay in the United States permitted under federal law is six dollars and seventy-five cents an hour.
The government says half of daycare workers earned less than seven dollars and eighteen cents an hour in two thousand two. Those employed in schools had median earnings of nine dollars and four cents per hour.
Pay depends on education. A caregiver who attended college earns more than a person who only finished high school. But the best pay is still not very high.
Getting the best child care can be difficult for even the wealthiest parents. The best centers may have long waiting lists. Parents often have to request a place long before their child is born.
Now we will visit a group of three-year-olds at a preschool in Fairfax, Virginia. The children begin their day by forming a circle. They talk a little to each other and their teacher. She leads them in song. After that, the children go to “stations,” places in the center where they can choose activities.
The boys and girls get a chance to paint or work at a computer. They can look at books or play with trains or trucks or dollhouses. They can build tall structures with building sets. Then they have a little something to eat and drink.
If the weather is good, the children play outside under supervision. Those staying a full day in the preschool have a meal. Later they sleep for part of the afternoon. Then their mothers or fathers arrive.
The children’s time in the care of others is over. It is time to go home.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Our programs are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.