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Providers, employers urge changes to Indiana early childhood care: ‘System is broken’

A view of a child day care center. (Photo from Video Aired on WISH)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Child care providers and employers on Wednesday told lawmakers Indiana’s lack of investment in early childhood care is jeopardizing its economic future.

State lawmakers this spring expanded eligibility for Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K program and for vouchers that help cover the cost of finding affordable child care. Lawmakers also authorized a study committee to look into more long-term changes. At the committee’s first hearing Wednesday, child care providers and economic development corporations said while the expansions were a good first step, child care remains out of reach for many working families.

Erin Emerson, president of the Perry County Development Corp., said her county on the Ohio River west of Louisville, Kentucky, has just one licensed child care center, the board for which she serves on. She said the center has had to cut back its hours due to costs, thereby taking away that resource from parents who work early morning or late-night shifts. Emerson said employers for the past decade have told her lack of child care is their No. 1 obstacle when it comes to workforce recruitment. She said she even had trouble working out child care for her own children.

“The system is broken from every single angle,” she said. “It does not work for providers, it does not work for families, and employers are clearly struggling to find workforce.”

Tricia Miller, a human resources manager for the Bendix vehicle systems plant in Huntington County, said potential employees have walked away from job offers, and current employees have quit, due to a lack of child care. She said the county northwest of Fort Wayne has four licensed child care facilities, the largest of which has a waiting list of more than 200 children. She said Bendix has run into regulatory hurdles in its efforts to establish an on-site child care center.

“Most children live in a household where both parents work, if there are two parents in the home,” she said. “Businesses like Bendix need these parents to be able to work to provide us with a stable, productive workforce.”

Indiana’s child care system has drawn increasing criticism.

A 2022 report by Early Learning Indiana found there is enough high-quality child care for only abut 28% of Indiana children.

Last month, CNBC ranked Indiana the seventh-worst state in which to live, citing a lack of licensed child care facilities.

Committee chair Sen. Ed Charbonneau, a Republican from Valparaiso, said he considers Indiana’s child care deficiencies an infrastructure issue.

“From my perspective, it’s not an ‘issue,’ it’s an issue in all capital letters, and it is the foundation of so many things that we have going on in the state of Indiana,” he said. “We’ve got to have it.”

Among those testifying before the committee, the most common recommendations were more state funding for child care, a streamlined licensing system for small, family-run child care services, and the offering of vocational training in early childhood care through Ivy Tech Community College.

Charbonneau says his committee will release its own recommendations after its final meeting, currently scheduled for Sept. 28, but likely to be delayed until early October to allow more time to finalize its report.