New report identifies key needs to improve childcare access in Greater Peoria
Better wages for workers and better transportation for kids are the biggest needs to improve childcare access in Peoria and surrounding counties.
That’s according to a report from Birth to Five Illinois on regional needs in Illinois.
The report found that one of the biggest barriers to access in Peoria County is cost. The average monthly cost for full-time childcare is $861, which accounts for 17% of a family's monthly median income.
Kari Clark is the regional director for Region 48, which includes Peoria County. She said there aren’t many affordable options in the area.
“Parents find difficulty in finding childcare, let alone affordable childcare,” Clark said. “And especially if they have multiple children, some childcare programs have waitlists that are a year plus long. A lot of families are utilizing family friend and neighbor care specifically because they just can't find programs that are meeting their needs.”
Cost is also a barrier for Region 53, which includes Mason, Tazewell and Woodford Counties, but a lack of childcare spots is the biggest roadblock for families in need of childcare.
Felicia Farden, regional director for Region 53, said there are only enough spots for 28% of children in the area.
The report offers recommendations for improving access in each region.
The biggest improvement needed in both is better wages and benefits for childcare workers. Farden said it’s difficult to retain workers because school districts offer better benefits.
“The first one listed is to increase funding to attract and retain staff,” Farden said. “Providing incentives that may be not, or aren't monetary. Like loan forgiveness, tuition reimbursement, free transcript retrieval, because that one was big, and it seems so minor, but having to pay to get your transcripts over and over and over again, it's costly.”
Transportation is another need for Peoria County. Clark said many families need assistance to get kids to and from programs. She said some programs within the city of Peoria have transportation, but most outside of the city don’t.
“We would like to see transportation funding, funded separately from programmatic funding,” Clark said. “So many times, programs have to make the tough decision as to whether they can continue transporting children or take away other services that they're able to offer to the families that they serve.”
More options for children with special needs is also a need for both regions.
“We really need more inclusive childcare programs for children with special needs,” Clark said. “We have lots of families that have kiddos with special needs that want to be able to go to work or go to school, but need a place for their children to go.”
Mason, Tazewell and Woodford counties also need more workers for second and third shifts.
“A lot of our families work in the service sector, they work in agriculture, they work in manufacturing, so their jobs don't lend themselves to nine to five typical work hours,” Farden said. “So offering that flexible scheduling for both the staff and families might prove to be very helpful, and it might be really easy to implement that.”
Clark and Farden said they’re hopeful additional funding for childcare that was included in the state budget could help to alleviate some of the barriers. The extra money for childcare worker compensation will be especially helpful.
But many of the grants do not have a specific directive yet. The reports will be used to determine where money can go, but public input is also still being gathered to find areas of need.
More information on the reports and how to give input can be found at the Birth to Five website.