Childcare is a serious budget item; it is up there with car payments and even rent or mortgages for some. The cost varies based on where you live and what type of childcare you choose for your little one. The range in Faulkner County is anywhere from $350 to $650 per month per child (see www.state.ar.us/childcare/ for a partial listing). That equates to a large expense for many Faulkner County families.
Childcare costs contribute to the burden on middle class parents. For those who aren't certain if they fall under that broad middle class umbrella, the economic stimulus package we enjoyed this year considered an individual who makes $75,000 or less annually or a family who makes $150,000 or less annually to be middle class. When this legislation came out I learned that I was very middle class, so I can state with all certainty that childcare is burdensome, and as the mother of a 20-month-old, I am facing at least another three years of the cost. Assuming an average of $400 per month over those three years, that is another $14,400. Put another way that is an average of $24,000 per child until they go to kindergarten.
My goal is not to frighten anyone considering bearing a child; it is to ask expecting families to stop, think, and budget for the expense that is coming their way. There are several scenarios available to families considering their childcare options and ways to help with costs.
The first and most popular childcare option is the daycare center, of which there are many options in Faulkner County. Daycare centers typically begin keeping babies at age six weeks and offer care through preschool, and the costs vary by age. Daycare centers are typically more affordable than babysitters or in-home care; they also can't call in sick, which is a major advantage for many working parents. It also allows children to socialize with others near their age, and they require licensure to operate. According to Sandy Raniszeski of Meadowlake Day School, "The main advantage of a daycare environment is the fact that we are regulated by the state. In addition to licensing, we are subject to health inspections and fire inspections. Meadowlake in particular went a step further and became a quality approved center, which is an extra credential that ensures our children are prepared for kindergarten. It is easier to evaluate your childcare option when there are standards in place."
There are few disadvantages to daycare centers; however, some would consider the hours and their children's exposure to various illnesses as negatives. Though not true of all centers, some experience high staff turnover. Sandy went on to say that "Childcare is an individual choice for each family. Sometimes a daycare center is best; for other families, having a relative keep their child is best."
Relative care is the second most used childcare option, and it is usually considered the next best thing to mom. Of course, the cost is always going to make this option most attractive. The rule of thumb is to offer the relative provider an agreed upon per diem rate if they will accept, otherwise, consider yourself lucky and do something nice for them regularly! In addition to the caregiver having your child's best interests at heart, they have a loving environment and pay meaningful attention to your child. The negatives are that you will be the recipient of constructive criticisms and advice from time-to-time and your childcare philosophies may conflict. This is a small price to pay for all of the positives associated with relative care.
If the idea of a nurturing, home environment appeals to you, but you do not have a relative nearby, home daycare may be the best option for you. In fact, my 20-month-old daughter enjoys an in-home babysitter setting. In addition to the warm environment, she has a small group of children to play with for about the same cost as a daycare center. There is also no turnover. Of course, there is also no backup when the in-home sitter is sick or on vacation. There is also no supervision, and the licensing requirements are less stringent than daycare centers.
If you are not a member of the aforementioned middle class, perhaps a nanny is an option for you. The obvious plus being that a nanny typically comes to your home, which is more personalized and convenient. It also allows your child to be in their own environment. However, nannies are the most expensive form of childcare, which makes this an unattainable choice for many. Additional drawbacks are similar to those of the home daycare - the nanny could go on vacation, get sick, or just quit, which would leave you in a bind.
The best option is, of course, for one parent to stay home with the child. The problem being that this is really not an option at all for most. A quick mental poll of my friends and acquaintances makes me realize that only three of them stay home with their child or children, but the large majority of them are employed.
According to www.msn.com, a generation ago a one-income family was solidly middle class. Today, a one-income family is typically at the bottom of the middle class. Of course there are exceptions to this, but unfortunately neither my husband nor I wed a doctor, CEO, etc., so off to work we both go! With the cost of living increasing each year and with the cost of childcare rising at half the rate of inflation, families can't afford not to work, but they also have a hard time affording to have children and manage the cost of their childcare. In order for a parent to stay home, many families have to sacrifice their homes, health insurance, or other important costs, and they struggle just to make ends meet.
Many employers are now becoming more family-friendly. I was able to negotiate a gradual return to work schedule once my daughter was born. I initially came back for two days a week in-office and was able to telecommute for three days. Once she was older, I began working in the office for four days, and I telecommute one day a week. If you have a positive work environment and good working relationship with your boss, it is worth approaching him or her about a gradual return to work schedule or even a work from home situation if that is possible with your job.
Though childcare will remain a major budget item for families, there are some wonderful options for children in Faulkner County. Contemplate your choices and decide on your best option, then begin to plan for the financial impact paying for care will have on your family. Most of all, make the decision that best serves your family and don't allow outside influences to factor in - you know your needs best!