Child care system falls short

April 07, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Md. Committee for Children, state agenciesSun Staff Writer

As women have surged into Maryland's work force, the state's child care system has struggled to keep pace, leading to a shortage of licensed spaces, and fees that can exceed the cost of a home mortgage.

Those are among the findings of a new study by the Maryland Committee for Children Inc., which painted a bleak picture of the state's child care industry.

"Parents find it very hard to find high-quality day care" said Sandra J. Skolnik, the committee's executive director. "There's a major, desperate need for child care for children under the age 2."

The industry is growing, yet salaries remain low, much lower than teachers' salaries. And even those prepared to pay the highest fees may not be able to find licensed child care, especially for infants or children with special needs, Ms. Skolnik said.

The mothers of 81 percent of Maryland children under age 12 are in the work force. The number of working women with children under age 6 increased by 71 percent from 1980 to 1990.

Ms. Skolnik said the report, based on the committee's own data and U.S. Census Bureau statistics, was "factual and unbiased." Among the findings she highlighted were:

* In the 12 months covered by the study, which ended in mid-1993, there were 157,543 "spaces" in licensed day care centers and homes. Acknowledging that many parents choose nonregulated alternatives, such as baby-sitters, nannies and family members, the committee estimates that 66,000 additional licensed spaces are needed statewide.

* A Maryland family with two children under the age of 6 can expect to pay about $6,000 to more than $11,000 for child care expenses, depending on the locality. As a percentage of median income, the cost was highest in Baltimore City, where estimated child care costs for two children would top housing costs for a family with a median income of $28,000.

The same was true in the poor, rural Allegany and Garrett counties.

* The most difficult child care to find is for children under age 2, in part because state regulations limit the number of young children in day care in a private home. Places for children over 6 also are hard to find.

* The average weekly cost of full-time child care in Maryland is $89 in a private home and $153 in a child care center. Overwhelmingly, parents tried to find places near home, and the majority prefer a family setting for child care.

* On average, a child care director in Maryland earns $19,094 a year -- $20,000 less than a public school teacher and almost $10,000 less than a private school teacher.

Brigita Miles of Cockeysville is all too familiar with the difficulties of finding suitable day care.

"We had it made for the first two years -- my husband's sister was our day care provider," said Ms. Miles, a systems analyst who recently separated from her husband. "We had it great, and all our friends were jealous."

But when her sister-in-law could no longer provide care, Ms. Miles had to find it on her own. She began the usual round of reading newspaper ads and studying notices on supermarket bulletin boards. Finally, she called the free telephone line offered by the Maryland Committee for Children.

She received a list of 12 places that met her criteria -- a nonsmoking home convenient to her daily commuting route to downtown Baltimore -- and now pays $125 a week for her 2-year-old son.

Dawn Botsch, a collections associate with a Baltimore real estate investment firm, has found a temporary place for her 8-month-old. The $100 weekly fee is more than her rent.

She and Ms. Miles used the community line operated by Maryland Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization that has files on every licensed provider in the state and can compile lists using any number of characteristics -- location, cost, even whether a house has an outdoor pool.

Those files, along with other research by the committee's staff, were compared with census data to create the 200-page report, which includes a demographic breakdown of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions.

Secretary of Human Resources Carolyn W. Colvin praised the report, saying, "The more we know, the better we are able to serve."

CHILD CARE COSTS

..... ........ Estimated .... Median .... % of median .... Child care

..... ........ child care ... family ..... income ........ cost ranked

..... ........ cost* ........ income ..... spent on ...... with other

...... ....... ....... ...... ...... ..... child care .... major expenses

Baltimore City .. $8,240 ...... $28,217 ....... 29% ........... 1

Counties:

Anne Arundel .... $9,363 ...... $49,706 ........ 19% .......... 2

Baltimore ....... $9,165 ...... $44,502 ........ 21% .......... 2

Carroll ......... $8,466 ...... $46,491 ........ 18% .......... 2

Harford ......... $8,683 ...... $45,923 ........ 19% .......... 2

Howard ......... $11,340 ...... $61,088 ........ 19% .......... 3

*Based on family consisting of couple and two children.

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