By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the late 1970s and early 80s, Charlotte faced a projected workforce shortage at a time women were entering the workforce in growing numbers.
But with Mecklenburg County operating only nine child care centers that served children of low-income working families, and looking at possible cuts in funding for those centers in the face of a budget shortfall, it was a challenging time for families that could not afford the cost of child care.
Based on a study by United Way of Central Carolinas it commissioned, the county and United Way formed a public-private partnership to administer financial child-care aid to eligible working families, and to work to help grow the supply of quality child care for families across across the economic spectrum.
That partnership led in 1982 to creation of Child Care Resources, a nonprofit that provides a broad range of services to help ensure the availability and delivery of high-quality child care in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union counties, in the region and throughout the state.
“Quality child care has a profound and lasting impact on young children, even more so for low-income families and school success for at-risk children,” says Janet Singerman, president of Child Care Resources.
Providing that care, particularly for low-income families, continues to be a challenge, with the cost of child care in Mecklenburg County typically exceeding 10 percent of household income for low-income families and outstripping the cost of tuition at public universities in the state, she says.
Operating with an annual budget of $8.4 million and a staff of over 90 employees, the agency in the fiscal year ended last June 30 administered $43.4 million in child care subsidy funds in Mecklenburg County that served over 7,600 children a month, on average, enabling their parents to work or attend school who otherwise would not have been able to afford child care, Singerman says.
Ninety-three percent of those children attended higher-quality programs, she says, while the waiting list averages over 5,500 children a month for participation in the child care subsidy program.
The agency also provided referrals to parents seeking information about early care and education for over 6,300 children; provided training or technical assistance to staff of over 900 early care and education programs; and provided books and promoted library use to over 1,700 children ages three to five to help improve early literacy.
It also sponsors the participation in the federal food program of nearly 200 licensed child care homes serving over 1,500 children.
And with North Carolina ranking first and receiving $70 million in early learning challenge funds through a national competition for the federal “Race to the Top” program, Child Care Resources is responsible for overseeing a handful of initiatives those funds will support to expand and strengthen early care and education in the state.
One of the largest of nearly 70 child care resource and referral agencies in the state, and the lead agency for one of 14 child care and resource referral regions in the state, Child Care Resources will be overseeing funds to improve professional development, leadership development, consulting and technical assistance for early care teachers and administrators.
“Our services,” Singerman says, “are designed to help programs achieve and sustain quality care so families and children can access it, employers can rely on its availability, and families can work and contribute to their own economic viability and our tax base.”