Howard: Land of Pricey Child Care

March 25, 1994

For the second consecutive year, Working Mother magazine has ranked Maryland as one of 10 states offering the nation's best child care. The judgment was based on the availability, affordability, quality and safety of care.

Among Maryland's 24 localities, Howard County posts some particularly noteworthy numbers where child care is concerned.

The county has the highest average care cost in the state ($94 a week), as well as the highest ratio of care slots to children under 12 with working moms (one slot for every three kids) among all metropolitan subdivisions in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Also, the directors of child-care centers in Howard County earn more than their counterparts in any other Maryland jurisdiction.

The piece in this month's issue of Working Mother, along with the Howard statistics, might call for celebration in the county and elsewhere around Maryland. The sad fact, though, is that even a Top 10 state can fall short of providing enough top-notch child care.

In Maryland, three out of four mothers with young children worked last year, but there were regulated -- and we stress that word -- child-care slots for only one out of four children age 12 and younger.

No doubt many Howard families can easily meet the cost of local child care. Yet high prices don't guarantee high-quality service. Maryland's relatively tight regulation of licensed care providers -- who, by the way, total only about half the number of unlicensed providers -- ensures little more than basic standards.

Glorified baby-sitting is not enough, as a child-care task force recently noted. The panel, comprising a cross-section of Maryland child care workers, advocated training that would enhance the professionalism of care providers and the quality of care programs.

The state deserves some credit for working over the past decade to improve child care in Maryland. Indeed, the government's efforts are reflected by the second straight Working Mother citation.

Still, there is a lot more that must be done by both the public and private sectors if greater numbers of working parents, particularly those near the bottom of the economic ladder, are to have access to proper child care.

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