Availability of affordable, quality child care can clear a path out of poverty

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released comprehensive reports on nationwide and state poverty in 2013. There are a lot of almost mind-numbing numbers in the reports, but behind those numbers are millions of Americans struggling with poverty that infects their lives 24 hours a day and shapes their future.

The Census Bureau reports reveal that the poverty rate for Oregon improved somewhat from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 16.7 percent in 2013, but remains stubbornly high. One way to reduce it further is to ensure that quality, affordable child care is available to low-income families.

Holding tight, a child grins as she enjoys being pushed on a swing by Jan McIntosh at Good Apple Child Care Preschool in Hillsboro. What a treat.

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But for this child’s low-income parents, and many other low-income Washington County residents who want to work and want the best for their children, it can be tough to access affordable, quality child care.

But child care is essential to help low-income people climb out of poverty and children who don’t get a good start often enter kindergarten behind and stay behind throughout their schooling.

It’s in the community’s best interest to provide a strong foundation for all children to develop into well-educated adults ready to participate in the work force and keep our economy strong. It’s also in the community’s interest to facilitate work by adults because work builds self-esteem and creates self-sufficiency.

One Oregon program that helps make work possible is the Employment Related Day Care program run by the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS). It provides financial assistance to help eligible low-income working families pay for child care, enabling parents to stay employed and children to be well cared for in stable child care arrangements.

The program helps approximately 20,000 Oregon families every year pay for child care for about 35,000 children.

About half the children who attended Good Apple Child Care Preschool in Hillsboro this summer were being helped by the program.

The preschool’s owners, Jan and James McIntosh, operate out of their 1,200 square foot home with its half-acre backyard playground.

If a child wants to enjoy arts and crafts, hike through Jackson Bottom Wetlands, take a field trip to the Enchanted Forest, get introduced to reading and music, or dunk her feet in poster paint and make footprints on poster paper, Good Apple’s the place to be.

The 16 boisterous children there this summer ranged from 6 months to 9 years of age; that switches to children 6 months to 5 years of age when school starts. The children are overseen by between three to six staff members, depending on the activities under way.

The nonprofit Community Action organization, which works to eliminate conditions of poverty and create opportunities for people and communities to thrive, helped Good Apple succeed.

“We were hooked up early on with Jan Alvarez, a child care specialist at Community Action of Washington County, and she has been awesome,” said Jan McIntosh. “She’s encouraged us to take the steps to get our certification, get nationally accredited and then participate in Oregon’s Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), which aims to raise the bar on quality child care and prepare children for kindergarten.”

Community Action also educates low-income working families about child care options, such as home-based programs and child care centers, and offers a broad range of face to face and online training classes in English and Spanish to child care operators and staff, such as first aid and CPR and child abuse and neglect training.

Karen Henkemeyer, who manages the child care program at Community Action, said some low-income families also find that providing child care can help lift them out of poverty while allowing them to stay close to their own children.

Child care providers throughout Washington County are striving to make a difference for low-income children and their parents. It’s critical that we support efforts to provide a full range of affordable, high quality child care if the county and all of its residents are to prosper.

For more information about child care-related programs in Washington County, call Community Action at 971-223-6100 or visit its website, caowash.org/ccrr.

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