New DC NEXT! Report Calls Attention to Urgent Barriers to Affordable Child Care for Young Parents in DC
As fall rolls around in the District of Columbia, children and youth are back in school. For young parents who are motivated to finish high school and college themselves, this time of year raises the question: do they have access to high-quality, reliable child care they need to complete their education? For many, the cost of child care is out of reach, which also means graduating and moving into a well-paying job is out of reach.
To lessen the cost burden, Washington, D.C’s child care subsidy program exists to pay all or a part of child care fees for qualifying families. In recent years, however, less than half of children eligible for child care subsidies have been enrolled in the program. A new report by the DC Network for Expectant and Parenting Teens (DC NEXT!) digs into why more parents, specifically young parents, are not taking advantage of this critical benefit. When DC NEXT! interviewed young parents, the majority of whom are Black and brown residents of wards 7 and 8, it made clear that the subsidy application process is a major barrier to participating in the program.
Their findings show that the subsidy application process requires “an overwhelming amount of paperwork; multiple in-person trips; long processing times, and a lack of empathy and customer service from staff – discouraging young parents from seeking support.” One young parent interviewed said, “I feel like a lot of the workers, they aren’t very helpful or considerate …They talk to you like you don’t know anything. Like you are stupid …. If you don’t call by 8:30 or 9 am you will be on hold all day.” Further, the report highlights young parents who shared that the program’s requirement that they be in school or working is challenging because they cannot go to school or work without access to affordable child care. And, the report also lifts the voices of other young parents who shared that they were not aware of the child care subsidy program at all.
While the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is taking steps to make the subsidy program more widely known and to make the application available online, the burdens of the child care subsidy application and participation requirements prevent our youngest families from accessing much-needed child care. This not only means that teen parents are less likely to be able to complete school or participate in the workforce, but also that their children are deprived of the countless benefits of high-quality early learning.
The report concludes with six recommendations:
- Fully fund the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act;
- Implement a campaign to increase awareness of vouchers;
- Ensure DC’s child care quality initiative includes what young families define as quality;
- Increase the availability of child care offered at alternative hours for shift workers;
- Eliminate or modify the work and school requirements; and
- Fund and launch a human-centered design process to reform the child care application process to ensure it is fast, mobile-friendly, and delivered with compassion.
As budget season approaches in the District, underutilization of the child care subsidy program, in part due to access issues described above, make the program vulnerable to cuts from local dollars – on top of the lapsing federal funding. We call on OSSE, the Department of Human Services (DHS), and city leadership to implement these recommendations in support of affordable, high-quality child care for DC families.
Young families and our youngest community members need quality child care now. Their jobs and school cannot wait, and we cannot wait to make these much-needed changes.
Robyn Russell, Senior Advisor, DC Primary Care Association, co-author of DC NEXT! Report, “Child Care for Young Parents: A Missing Key to Intergenerational Upward Mobility in the District” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jeffrey Credit, Founder & CEO, Community Educational Research Group (email@example.com)