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Access to affordable childcare continues to be a struggle across the nation and the Yellowhammer State.

When school is out during the summer months, work carries on for parents, leaving them needing care for their little ones. Before a child is old enough to attend school, families with all working adults or single-parent households must pay for childcare year-round.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the median annual cost for infant childcare in Alabama is $6,001 per infant, an average of $500 monthly, which is 12% of the average salary for an Alabama household.

According to Robin Bennett, a daycare owner based in Eclectic, the price of hiring and maintaining staff continues to be the highest cost for childcare centers, especially for infants.

“We try to keep our prices as low as we possibly can, while still being able to pay our teachers fairly and to keep our doors open,” Bennet said. “You can only hold five infants for one teacher when the infants are under the age of 18 months. [The teachers] have to be 18 years or older and have a high school diploma.”

Still, the price of childcare is less than affordable for the majority of Alabama households.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), childcare is affordable if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income. Only 27.1% of Alabama families can afford infant care by this standard. Childcare for two children—an infant and a 4-year-old, for instance—costs $11,185, meaning a typical Alabama family would have to spend 22.2% of its income on childcare.

Things become more complicated and the costs more daunting for single-parent households.

According to U.S Census Bureau information, there are 11 million single-parent households in the nation, 80% of which are run by women. Census data also shows that single mothers comprise 5% of all households in Alabama. In Birmingham, Mayor Randall Woodfin has noted that single mothers make up 60% of all households with children.

Information from Data Commons shows that the average salary of women in Alabama is $21,644. This means a single mother would, on average, spend 28% of her annual income on childcare.

Despite the high cost of many childcare facilities, the workers in those facilities receive a relatively low wage.

Data from 2019 shows that childcare workers in the state earned a median hourly wage of $9.19, which is less than the national average. According to one childcare center, which wished to remain anonymous when speaking to 1819 News, maintaining sufficient staff remains a challenge in keeping childcare prices lower.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) has attempted to address this issue by issuing grants to childcare workers. The Childcare Workforce Stabilization grants will pay up to $3,000 for full-time employees and $1,500 for part-time employees in childcare facilities.

Like many rural areas, Bennet’s is one of only two operations in her area that provides childcare services. Some areas may have one or no options for childcare.

“We are licensed for 70 children; Monday through Friday and we have 10 staff members. We have ages 6 weeks to 12 [years],” Bennet told 1819 News.

Bennet said that her day care, like many other childcare facilities, have long waiting lists with parents seeking care for their children. Infants make up the majority of those on the waiting list.  

Those who cannot afford professional childcare are often resigned to accepting more affordable options, such as church day care or unlicensed options.

Unlicensed facilities have come under the spotlight recently.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) has received 23 complaints of unlicensed day care facilities since January of this year, and all 23 have been forwarded to a district attorney or the attorney general for further action.

One such childcare facility was the Hoover First United Methodist Day School, which came under fire after the staff was accused of using hot sauce as a method of punishment. In Prattville, three women at a day care operating out of Journey Church of the River Region were criminally charged with over 40 counts of physically abusing infants in their care.

For many, the answers do not seem clear. Most parents want top-quality options for their children but cannot afford the price tag that accompanies top-quality facilities.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

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