By Mia Khatib
DURHAM — Parents, child care providers and community members gathered at the People’s Solidarity Hub last week to discuss systemic barriers to child care and potential solutions. Many attendees said they came to find community and learn how to better support their children.
This Kitchen Table Talk was hosted by Empowered Parents in Community, in partnership with Grown in Durham. EPiC Program Manager Brittani Clark said high costs, tight work schedules, lack of transportation, and low trust in providers are some of the biggest obstacles for parents.
“North Carolina is actually considered a child care desert because five families compete for every one spot in child care,” she said. “Black and multiracial families [are] more likely than white families to experience job disruptions due to interruptions with child care.”
Clark said the industry receives insufficient public investment and the limited resources, like child tax credits and child care subsidies available to help parents, are underfunded. Similarly, early childhood educators struggle to make ends meet earning, on average, $29,000 a year nationally.
“The younger the child, the higher the [child care] cost. But, on the opposite end, the younger the child, the lower the child care provider gets paid. That’s crazy,” she said. “You have over 30,000 children just here in Durham that are on the waitlist [for the child care subsidy], ages 0 to 5, and then more than half of those are infants and toddlers.”
Sandra Harris said beyond unattainable costs, she doesn’t trust anyone to look after her grandkids. She said you never know who is coming around the provider and children, and worries about serious consequences like abuse and molestation taking place.
“If it wasn’t for my mom being able to watch my son, especially during COVID, I wouldn’t have been able to work. All of my family is like so scattered,” Marquia Hargrove, whose mother passed away in 2020, said. “For people who don’t have that mom or have that in-house support, what else do we do?”
Charryse Fredrick, community advocate and parent, agreed that trust in providers is fundamental and suggested creating a cooperative child care center composed of like-minded parents to “share that responsibility.”
Parent Aisha Williams added that it’s important to not only have someone to call in emergency situations but even when you’re overwhelmed. “Parents feel guilty of [needing] a break,” Williams said. “If I’m not my best self, I can’t give my best self to my child.”
Another parent urged financial literacy programs and said there needs to be more partnership across local organizations. A local church received a grant to transport kids from five schools and offer before and after school programs, she said, but they didn’t know how to advertise it.
“It's not just child care; it’s rent, it’s transportation, it’s gas,” Crystal Graves said. “[The church] had enough funding to where they wanted people to come sign up. So, people like that need to be in connection with you all.”
Child care stabilization grants and wages programs are also available for providers, but attendees said they have tight requirements. Kamweli Wilson said one of the toughest things as a provider is seeing a family struggle but having to break off the relationship because mistrust is standing in their child’s way, a position she’s been in before.
“Kids can feel their parents’ energy… If you don’t trust me, your child is never gonna trust me,” she said. “I would still like to work with you, even if your child isn't going to stick with me, on what is it about you that's having problems letting go of your child.”
Part 2 of EPiC’s Kitchen Table conversation series is Oct. 24. For more information, visit www.epic-nc.org.
Mia Khatib, who covers affordable housing and gentrification, is a Report for America corps member.