The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has announced a $1,000 per employee incentive program to recruit and retain child care professionals. Care for Kids is a state-funded initiative that hopes to stabilize the child care industry in Oklahoma. Child care providers were hit particularly hard during the pandemic because many people didn’t need the service. That led to providers struggling to stay afloat or shuttering their businesses.
Elliot Haspel, a former teacher and author of Crawling Behind: America’s Child Care Crisis And How To Fix It, told NPR in March this year that the staffing crisis in child care isn’t simply related to the pandemic.
“Remember, child care workers are making $12 an hour,” he said. “Well, what did other low-wage industries do over the past 12-18 months? They’ve raised their compensation. Amazon and Target are at a $15 starting wage, and McDonald’s, Chipotle — like, all across the board, these industries in retail and fast food are raising their wages. Child care programs can’t do that. They can’t keep pace because they don’t have anywhere else to turn, and there’s very little public money in the system. And so we’re seeing this exodus of child care workers.”
The exodus has been catastrophic for parents who are returning to work and providers who need to staff businesses to adequately serve their clients. Federal law mandates teacher-to-child ratios, so providers aren’t free to take all applicants. That’s forced some providers to shutter classes due to the labor shortage. The new OKDHS program is one component of a stabilization program designed to mitigate the crisis.
Brittany Lee, director of child care services for OKDHS, said the Care for Kids funds are targeted at building the workforce by attracting professionals into the child care industry, but it’s only one solution the department has deployed.
“We have stabilization grants for the providers that can help with payroll, overhead and supply costs, too,” Lee said. “And we have another grant that allows us to waive copayments for families who qualify. That program is scheduled to run through the end of the year, but we’re hoping to get it extended into 2023.”
OKDHS also offers desert grants to areas that do not have adequate child care programs. The funds can help individuals or companies start a program in underserved areas. The multi-pronged approach is designed to provide relief to families and providers. In addition to the funding, Care for Kids provides a website that includes job postings from the 12 major job boards and funds for PSAs to draw attention to the incentives. Lee said the state is already seeing responses to the incentives.
“We want to continue to highlight the workforce issues and take steps necessary to get child care professionals back to work,” Lee said.