BOCA RATON, Fla. — Families are making major sacrifices to afford child care. For many, it's too expensive and too hard to find. The lack of available and affordable child care is being called a crisis, but it's an issue that's being tackled in South Florida.
Izamar Hernandez and Marimar Maldonado are sisters who rely on each other and on a child care center, so they can work to provide for their families.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, I couldn't go to work," said Maldonado. "It's stressful, because we had half the income we used to, paying rent. It was just frustrating, you know. When they (child care center) opened again, I was excited. I could go back to work."
"I have seen other parents that I know that don't find a place," said Hernandez. "Can't find it. Space is limited. ... It's a big struggle."
Both women said the pandemic shed light on this predicament.
"The cost of day care is very high in most places," said Maldonado.
"I had to leave my job for eight months," said Hernandez. "I was not providing."
Both said they feel lucky to have found a spot for their children at the Fuller Center in Boca Raton.
"I think that this pandemic has really brought this situation to light," said Ellyn Okrent, CEO of the nonprofit Fuller Center. "Child care is one of the essential functions of a good economy, and child care has not been looked as essential until now, and we are in a crisis."
She said the parents at the Fuller Center are the backbone of the community's economy, especially as South Floridians navigate their way out of a pandemic. Ninety percent of parents here are essential or front-line workers.
"How are we going to continue to be a vital community if the people running our local economy literally on the ground aren't able to be at work, to be efficient and effective because they don't have quality child care?" asked Okrent.
Her passion is expanding child care options for underserved families.
"I have been very active myself in communicating with our local legislators in letting them know just how important this particular issue is," said Okrent.
The Fuller Center offers discounted child care based on income.
"Child care has really been in crisis for years and years and years," said Okrent. "The cost of child care is exorbitant. The qualifications for the staff are very high. The pay for staff is very low."
According to a 2021 survey on care.com, 85% of parents said they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable care at no more than 7% of a household income.
"I hear stories about, like they pay a lot, like a thousand dollars a month for day care, but Fuller works with you," said mother Courtneye Shannon. "I think child care should be more affordable for working parents and parents trying to better themselves."
That same survey states 59% of families plan to spend more than $10,000 on child care this year alone.
"Affordable child care is way out of hand," said Okrent. "Affordable child care is equal to a college tuition."
Accessibility is also an issue. Forty-six percent of families said finding care now is more difficult than pre-pandemic, according to care.com.
"I hear a lot of it," said Hernandez. "There's waiting lists in most day cares, because the space is not how it used to be now that we have COVID. They can't have an extra amount of kids in one classroom, so it's very difficult for, I'm pretty sure, mostly everybody."
Okrent said if child care centers can't stay open and there aren't enough teachers and staff, the economy suffers. She believes parents must make an investment in their children now that will pay dividends later.
"People can't go to work," said Okrent. "People can't keep their offices open. Businesses can't function. … I believe that it needs to be acknowledged. I believe it needs to be valued. If we don't take care of our kids and we don't educate our kids, we in this country will not be able to keep up, and I believe that we are starting to see that now."