"We are Speaking Up" - Parents Become Activists for Child Care Funding

Aimee Strain
May 28, 2011

If Marla Campos, a single mom in Antioch, Calif., didn't have to pay $900 a month for child care, it would be like the Christmas bonus she got one year, she says: "(It) was the first time in three years I had a full paycheck.

But even though Campos' two daughters are eligible for state-subsidized child care, they have been put on a waiting list for child care assistance because the state doesn't provide enough funding. Her daughters are among the estimated 234,000 children on the waiting list for state-subsidized child care.If Marla Campos, a single mom in Antioch, didn't have to pay $900 a month for child care, it would be like the Christmas bonus she got one year, she says: "(It) was the first time in three years I had a full paycheck. I was able to pay all my bills, buy $300 in groceries, even put some money away. It brought tears to my eyes when my daughter Lilia said, "Mommy, this is the best Christmas ever because there's food in the house,'" she recalls.

A campaign by the parent-led activist organization Parent Voices is working to change this. Parent Voices is calling on the state to expand funding for 20 percent of eligible children each year for five years. The campaign will give families around California an opportunity to speak out about their situation, says Parent Voices statewide coordinator Mary Ignatius. "We are hoping their stories will move our legislators to see how important this really is."

"(Without) reliable, quality child care, families have to choose whether to be a good worker or be a good parent," adds Ignatius. "If you're relying on different people (to care for your children) at different times, you never know when they're available. If your child's sick and you can't take time off, you're in a bind. And child care has a really good return for the economy," she adds. Studies show that children who attend high quality child care programs are less like to commit crimes, drop out of school, or need public assistance when they are older.

Marla Campos: "I want to be heard"

Campos' day begins at 4:30 am and doesn't end until she picks up the kids at 6:30 pm, makes dinner, checks homework, and goes to bed. At one point, she worked a second job delivering newspapers until after 2 am while her daughters slept in the car. She doesn't want to sacrifice her daughters' well-being by working two jobs, she says, but subsidized child care would feel like a second income.

"It would be nice to not always have to worry about how you're going to cover the bills," she adds. "You don't have to worry that you need $20 for gas. It's that kind of uncertainty. (With subsidized child care) I would have enough money to pay the bills and buy food and maybe save money."

Campos recalls when her child care provider told her the program was closing: "I had just three days to find (child care) and didn't want to ditch my kids with anyone. It was hard, I had this good job I couldn't afford to lose, yet I had to find a safe place for my kids."

"I know I don't have it as bad as others do," she says, "so that's even more reason to help get the word out. We are speaking up to try to make change for other people. I am really passionate about this. I already have the day off to attend Stand for Children (see Get involved). I want to be heard and let everyone know how much this is really affecting people."

Denise Bugg: "It would be a big relief"

Three-year-old Hailey's grandparents look after her while her mom, Denise Bugg, is at work. "I am always worried about Hailey because her grandpa has health problems. What if he's watching her and something happens to him?" says Bugg, a single mom in Fresno. The grandfather's health problems also mean he isn't well enough to take Hailey out of the house or to the park.

Hailey's grandparents also plan to move to Oregon. "I don't know what I'm going to do," says Bugg. "I work from 1 to 9 pm and I don't know of any (child care) that will watch her that late. My sisters work and my (own) parents are deceased." And to afford child care, "I would have to cut all the bills in half—gas, food. It's stressful," she says.

"It would be a big relief if I had subsidized child care," she adds. "Hailey would be well taken care of, she'd have friends to play with, and it would make her schedule better. For me, it would be such great peace of mind, plus we'd have more money to spend on the other bills."

Barren Littleton: "We have to invest in our young people"

"(Subsidized child care) would help out tremendously," says Hollywood father Barren Littleton. "Sometimes I don't pay for car insurance because I need to pay for child care—you can't sacrifice that."

Littleton wants his daughter to go to a better child care center but can't afford the monthly costs. "The new center would be closer, safer, and have better services. I tried to switch, but it's $700 a month and I need to keep her at this school until (financial assistance) is available," Littleton says.

"I would like to let the people at the Capitol know they need to invest in (children) because it's one of our most important investments. I mean, who's going to run the country in the future? We have to invest in our young people—we need to stop closing schools and opening jails. When there's a rally, I plan to attend it, to show how important this is."

Parent Voices in California brings parents together to speak out for affordable, quality child care. Chapter meetings offer food and child care. For more information, contact Mary Ignatius, 415-882-0234, or your local Parent Voices organizer.

In Context: Resources (from SparkAction)

Quality, affordable child care has been shown to have long-term positive impacts on the development of children and youth, and is critical to parents' ability to find and keep jobs. But the costs are steep—child care ranges from $3,000 to $13,000 per child per year; in many communities, child care costs as much or more per year than community college. Federal funding for child care subsidies has been more or less frozen for six years.

The National Picture

A total of 2.35 million children in the U.S. received child care assistance in 2004 and 2005, according to the Child Care Bureau's recent Report to Congress. While more than 360,000 children are on waiting lists for the assistance they are eligible for, the Center for Law and Social policy estimates that "any more thousands of children and families need help but do not even bother applying for assistance."

Nationally, advocates are watching the progress of the Starting Early, Starting Right Act, introduced in Congress in May 2008, which would add $10 billion each year to increase access to quality care, raise reimbursement rates for providers, and fund training, monitoring, and new initiatives.

Learn More

Get Involved

Visit the Action Center for information on how to contact state and federal legislators and join with groups taking action on this issue.

This article—minus the Resources—originally appeared in the May-June 2008 issue of the Children's Advocate, published by Action Alliance for Children. It was reviewed and updated in 2012.