Child care concerns addressed at session

State Rep. Jen Hill, D-Marquette, speaks to an audience about the economic effects of child care on Marquette County. (Journal photo by Alexandria Bournonville)

MARQUETTE — At an American Association of University Women meeting that included state Rep. Jen Hill, attendees spoke out about their concerns for increasingly inaccessible child care.

As a strong voice for the empowerment of women and girls, AAUW seeks to advance gender equity through research, education and advocacy. Thursday’s meeting had area residents and community leaders gather to spark a conversation on the lack of accessible, affordable, quality and convenient child care for the modern family and how that negatively affects the local economy.

Greta Hill, who has been in the child care field since 1999, is the current executive director at Little Friends Children’s Center — a nonprofit day care and early educational facility for children ages 1 to 5. She spoke about the many problems both parents and child care workers face on a daily basis.

“Once upon a time, daycares used to advertise to fill their spaces. In 2020, I had 127 children on my wait list. I have the capacity for 78,” Greta Hill said. “As of today, we’ve got 89 children enrolled. We have 68 on our wait list. It’s getting better, but parents are still struggling to find care.”

In many cases, Greta Hill noticed, one parent will be forced to stay home from their job for extended periods of time to watch their children because there are no alternatives. Other times, families cannot afford to stop working, so they find creative — and straining — solutions.

“I have a family who lived in Marquette, drove one child to Harvey for day care, drove the other to Negaunee to day care, so they could work at Bell Hospital and do the reverse at the end of the day,” she said. “They did that for six months before I could get their second child in.”

In terms of finances, a conservative estimated cost for the care of one child at Little Friends Children’s Center is $250 per week. According to an AAUW release, the average family pays nearly $12,000 in child care expenses annually.

Concerning the ever-increasing cost of care, Rep. Hill emphasized the importance of reforming Michigan’s current method of assessing taxes so taxpayer money can come back to their local municipality and fund social programs in their area.

Similarly, Greta Hill said, “Throwing resources into creating more spaces is critical, but it doesn’t fix the entire problem. Systemic change and universal support of our children are the only viable solutions.”

One immediate solution currently being developed is the Lake Superior Community Partnership’s Childcare SPARK program. SPARK gives anyone in the community an opportunity to take professional training to provide in-home child care to their neighbors.

The program provides flexible training hours, a stipend for trainees and financial support to remediate certain necessary upgrades to the home being used.

For parents in a bind, Great Start to Quality, a state Department of Education-funded organization, provides assistance in finding and placing Michigan children in quality day cares and early education centers.

AAUW encourages the community to use the resources around them, including subsidiary funds, tri-share or other state programs. The group also advocates for a mixed model of universal preschool in Michigan that would include personal or nonprofit child care sites in order to keep local facilities in business.

Their final request of the meeting was for members and attendees alike to continue to keep the conversation on child care alive and advocate for solutions that benefit both parents and child care workers.

Alexandria Bournonville can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 506. Her email address is abournonville@miningjournal.net.


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