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Child care can be obstacle to those seeking to escape poverty
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Myra Garcia keeps a group of 2-year-olds entertained as she reads them a story at Gainesville Academy.. - photo by Scott Rogers

As families work to get out of poverty and into a stable job, the need for affordable child care can be a stumbling block.

“Many times we hear, ‘Well I can’t apply for a job because I have to have child care to go to that job interview. I could work that night shift, but I don’t have any child care at night,’” said Joy Griffin, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Hall County. “Often that entry-level position at that manufacturer is that second shift. So, how do you get started? You can’t move from second shift to first shift if you can’t take the second shift.”

With child care costs ranging from about $85 to more than $180 a week in many places, providing a safe place for children can take a large portion of a paycheck.

“It is incredibly expensive,” said Brandee Thomas, executive director of My Sister’s Place, a Gainesville shelter program that seeks to help homeless women and children get back on their feet. “We actually this summer had exhausted all of our free resources, so we wound up paying like $1,300 for four kids for a four-week period.”

Shawn Williams, who heads the rental assistance division for the state Department of Community Affairs, said the costs of child care and housing can really add up.

“We have a lot of participants who go to work every day and just struggle to make ends meet because their median income is low and the rents are higher,” Williams said. “If you’re trying to pay child care, and go to work at the local Walmart, that pretty much eats up all of your income.

“It’s families that get up and go to work every day, and work hard every day — they are the families in that demographic that we serve.”  

Help with child care costs is available through Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services program, known more commonly as CAPS, which provides financial subsidies for families with children based on income and number of children needing services.

Childcare and Parent Services program

Georgia’s CAPS program provides child care assistance to low-income parents on a sliding scale. For example, a family making $19,201-$21,600 with two children will pay no more than $42 a week. There are sometimes freezes on applications due to limited funds, and processing of paperwork can sometimes take at least 45 days.

More info: CAPS.Support@decal.ga.gov, 833-4GA-CAPS

Families with an income of $3,600 or less per year have no copay for child care no matter how many children. A family making $12,001 to $14,400 a year with three children in child care would pay a maximum of $33 per week for all three children. A family with two children and an annual income of $28,801 to $31,300 would pay a total of $60 per week for their portion of child care costs.

But CAPS has its drawbacks.

Changes in the system have resulted in fewer families getting help in 2017.

In Hall County, 268 families had received CAPS funding for 433 children as of Sept. 1, compared with 363 families and 608 children a year ago.

Reg Griffin, chief communications officer for Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said the lower numbers and current delays in the system are due to the launch of Georgia Gateway, which officials say will make child care help and other assistance to those in poverty more efficient.

Local officials say the program has a waiting period.

“The majority of our ladies do qualify for day care assistance through CAPS because they are homeless,” Thomas said. “In the last six months there has been a shift in how paperwork is being processed, and so it is taking significantly longer. Last year, I would have told you that the goal they apply and generally within a month they are able to see those funds kick in. Now it’s typically taking at least 45 days for them to get that assistance. It depends on when you are applying. If it’s the end of their fiscal year, they are going to be low on funds, so you may not be able to qualify.”

Pam Forrester, director of Gainesville Academy child care center on Dawsonville Highway, said about 30 of the children in her child care program are receiving CAPS. She said the average CAPS family she has pays about $18 a week for child care, although some pay more. The cost of child care at Gainesville Academy ranges from $135 to $175 a week, according to Forrester.

“CAPS is an amazing program,” she said. “It benefits parents who otherwise would wind up leaving their children with anybody and everybody.”

Forrester said CAPS provides access to a safer environment that also includes more opportunities for education.

“There’s just a variety of things that we do other than just watch kids,” she said. “If the parents don’t have the option for CAPS, then their child could be with their aunt and they don’t have an idea who’s coming in and out. Here, we know who’s coming in and out.”

Forrester added that some parents fall through the cracks with CAPS.

“Some families that I have truly could use CAPS, but they don’t qualify,” she said. “I have one parent that missed it by one dollar. She made one dollar more than CAPS would allow. It’s eating her paychecks up to work.”

In Hall County, Family Promise and other agencies are working together to provide free child care on a temporary basis for parents who are either looking for a job or have a job but have not yet received CAPS funding.

Little Steps Community Day Care began in August to help families who need up to two months of child care while getting through the CAPS system.

In order to qualify for the program, a family has to be involved with a case manager in local organizations such as the United Way, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, My Sister’s Place, Salvation Army, Sisu or the Gainesville Housing Authority. The case manager from the organization will need to call to refer a family.

Family Promise of Hall County Executive Director Lindsey McCamy said it will be the responsibility of the case managers with the other programs to make sure the adults are accountable and working or looking for a job while their child is at the day care program.

McCamy said last month that the new center was serving about a dozen children referred by various partnering agencies.

“To get in day care you have to have some money,” McCamy said. “If they have two children, that’s about about $300 a week.”

She said Little Steps has already “filled the gap” in helping families get child care while parents look for or start jobs.

“I’m starting to see the need even for long-term care,” she said. “It would be great to be able to serve 60 children and have 20 that are scholarshipped 80 or 90 percent, 15 or so that are free and maybe 25 that are full pay. Eventually, we would be able to self-sustain. We’re not going to make money. We’re just seeing we need more employees. This is on a shoestring budget.”

The program is being funded in large part by the United Way.

“That is a new initiative that we are a huge funder of,” Griffin said. “It is the beginning of that solution. That’s just a baby step in that direction so while they’re waiting for that funding to come through for child care, they do have a free place for care to get the ball moving in the right direction.”

Read more stories in the series.

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Gainesville Academy's Amy Rodriguez prepares to read to her group at the Gainesville day care facility. - photo by Scott Rogers
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