High cost of day care strains both families, centers

MACON, Ga. -- Many parents save for more than a decade for their children’s college education. There are scholarships and federal assistance to help young adults and their parents afford that huge investment in their future.

But many parents are surprised to realize that four years in day care generally costs more.

At a time when most parents are early in their careers and have far less earning power, they pay thousands of dollars a year for day care — with no scholarships and, in most cases, no government help.

For many of them, the expense became even harder to shoulder during the recession, as workers lost jobs or hours. That translated into less income for day care providers and fewer hours for day care workers, who are often paid little more than minimum wage and receive few to no benefits.

There are federal programs to help the poorest families. And a 2009 national survey showed Georgia as having the fifth most affordable day care in the country for infants and school-age children, and the eighth most affordable for 4-year-olds.

But a slow economic recovery, new state day care requirements and a poor parental understanding of day care make it likely that the system will continue to experience a shortfall, many early childhood advocates say.

That results in high teacher turnover and poorer quality facilities, materials and supplies for children in care, said Pam Tatum, CEO of the Georgia advocacy organization Quality Care for Children. The agency tries to get children into quality early childhood programs by advising both parents and providers.

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