Child care is a necessity for many Michigan families, but is becoming increasingly unaffordable for lower-income parents. In addition, insufficient state inspectors to monitor providers’ compliance with child care licensing rules means that parents cannot always count on finding safe and reliable care — even if they have the resources to purchase it.
A new report by the League concludes that current efforts to improve access to high quality child care — partly through a new federal grant — will be insufficient to move the dial significantly without additional state funding.
Child care is a major expense in a family’s budget, often exceeding the costs of housing and college tuition. Michigan was recently ranked as the 12th least affordable state in the U.S. for child care for infants in centers, and 17th for 4-year-olds. A two-parent family at the state’s median income must devote 23% of its income for two children in center care. Care for a low-income single parent at 200% of poverty would consume nearly half of the family’s income, according to Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy, which was released today.
Michigan’s child care program provides subsidies to low-income parents, but the state’s eligibility levels are among the lowest in the country, and the very low rates paid to providers have forced many families to seek out unlicensed care of unknown quality. Recent increases in payments for higher quality providers are welcome and overdue, but more than 80% of providers have met only basic licensing requirements—the floor for quality–and are not eligible for the rate increase.
In looking for care, parents may assume that there is adequate state oversight to ensure that licensed providers have in place needed protections for the health and safety of their children. The reality is that although Michigan was one of only 16 states in 2013 with licensing regulations that included all of the 10 basic health and safety requirements recommended by pediatric experts, it was also in the bottom tier of states in terms of the number of state inspectors who monitor compliance.
In fact, with one licensing inspector for every 153 child care programs, Michigan’s inspector-to-program ratio is more than three times the nationally recommended level of 1:50. This dangerous crack in the state’s child care system was made clear in two recent federal audits that found multiple violations including the failure to complete required criminal and protective services checks for staff, hazardous substances within the reach of children, and unsupervised toddlers.
To get Michigan back to work, parents need safe, reliable and affordable child care. Children also deserve care that helps them learn and develop so they are ready for school. State lawmakers have made great strides in recent years in expanding preschool to 4-year-olds. Now it is time to focus on the state’s youngest children in child care settings, and on the parents who are working hard to support them.
– Pat Sorenson