Sharon Kirkman says she sees a disheartening reality when she walks into work each day at Lamplight Loving Care in Burlington.
The state licenses the child care facility she owns to have 58 children. Currently, it only has 33, making for a 44-percent reduction in the number of children Lamplight is serving.
“We’ve been in business since September 1994; this is the first time we’ve experienced this kind of problem,” Kirkman said.
According to the Alamance County Department of Social Services, this lack of presence is due to a reduction in Alamance County child care subsidies by the Division of Child Care Development as a result of the level of funding being greater than the demand for subsidy services.
Alamance County was thus unable to spend all of the funding, resulting in a reversion of funds back to the Division of Child Development. Because of the prior year’s reversion of funds, the allocations were reduced.
The Division of Child Care Development began to see an increase in the number of families applying for subsidy assistance, which made it necessary to implement a waiting list on August 7, 2008.
These subsidies help families care for their children who otherwise could not afford high-quality and licensed child care.
Because of it, Lamplight has not been able to accept any more children into the facility.
According to the Alamance Department of Social Services, there are approximately 577 children (393 families) on the list for child care subsidy currently in Alamance County.
Kirkman has three main concerns regarding these reductions, the first being that if families cannot receive child care, the parents are unable to work. If parents are not working, the taxes they would normally pay would not exist.
“It makes more sense to help these families with their child care as their taxes and wages contribute more to our economy than the cost of the subsidy,” she said. “It’s not addressing any issues; not allowing parents to go back to work because of lack of child care, it’s a vicious cycle.”
She continued, “Parents who lose their jobs are given a limited time to find another. If they don’t find one, their subsidy is taken away.”
Her next concern is that without children in the facility, Lamplight may lose more staff members. This fall alone, Kirkman has been forced to let two staffers go.
“I have worked hard and taken advantage of local resources like Alamance Partnership for Children to build a strong, qualified, capable, loving staff,” Kirkman said. “Many of these dedicated professionals have been at my facility for a long time. The children know and love them.”
Finally, Kirkman is worried about an unsatisfactory level of care these children who cannot receive subsidies will have to endure by attending a lower-quality facility.
“I’m concerned that if we have to continue to provide the same services at a reduced amount of funding, we’re going to have to hire less-qualified people,” she said.
Alamance Partnership for Children is now seeing an increase in families coming to the facility for its free services that do not require subsidies. However, it is also feeling the negative effects of this subsidy reduction.
“In the past there have been adequate funds,” Cindy Watkins, executive director of Alamance Partnership for Children said. That all changed in July when a waiting list [for child care subsidies] began, she said.
With these families, “It’s been a domino effect throughout the community,” Watkins explained.
SO FAR, ALAMANCE Partnershifor Children has had to reduce the overall budget by about 6 percent and put an additional 2 percent in reserves. It has not expanded its community programs and as a result, the Horizons program, a substance abuse treatment program for pregnant women and mothers living in Alamance County, has suffered the most.
While Watkins said that next year the facility may have to eliminate some programs, for now it is not making any cuts to the WAGE$ program, a salary supplement program for early childhood professionals based on the level of education they have received.
Wee Care Child Development center in Burlington is another facility hurting from subsidy reductions.
“We have definitely seen an impact through enrolled children because parents cannot afford out-of-pocket costs for childcare,” Director Rolanda Stanfield said.
While the facility has had no staff cuts and very few students withdrawn, the reductions have affected its budget, she said.
“Every parent who receives that benefit, make sure you send information in as requested,” Stanfield advised. A lapse of coverage could mean losing the benefit.
The amount of time that families can expect to be on the waiting list will vary based on their need for care. According to the Department of Social Services waiting list policy, families who need child care to support employment will be given priority over families needing care for post-secondary education. Earlier this month, DSS began the process to remove the first 74 children from the list whose parents are employed.