Tackling child care issues in Bay City

Child care concerns
September 26, 2023 • Featured, News

Partnership will break down barriers for families, child care providers

As working adults seek to reenter the workforce following the COVID-19 pandemic, many face a significant challenge: lack of child care.

Recent national workforce surveys show nearly 30% of working adults are unable to return to the workforce due to the lack of accessible, affordable child care. This gap in child care services exists across the Great Lakes Bay Region, as it does throughout Michigan and the country.

More than 1,500 children in Bay City alone need child care and/or early education. Yet, there are fewer than 1,400 licensed slots for this age group, of which only 896 have a quality rating of 3 stars and above. In addition, current enrollment is less than licensed capacity. 

“A significant lack of adequate care for our youngest residents is among the biggest threats to our economic recovery following the pandemic and, more importantly, as we plan for a thriving community into the future,” said Jameca Patrick-Singleton, a director of program development for the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance

With a $750,000 grant from Bay City’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, a group comprising professionals and community members has formed the Bay City Child Care Advisory Board and is working to address the city’s systemic barriers to child care. 

Identifying the need

The advisory board conducted a needs assessment, acquiring crucial information such as the gaps in service for parents and providers. This report further confirmed a desperate need for additional child care and that a child care worker shortage is adding to the lack of availability. 

Peggy Condon-Watson, executive director of the Bay County Child and Senior Center, said a significant reason child care providers are not at licensed capacity is their ability to hire — and retain — employees. 

“We have physical space but lack the necessary number of employees, so we can’t take more kids,” Condon-Watson said. “We cannot afford to provide health care to our employees, which is a major hurdle in the hiring process.” 

Prohibitively high tuition or child care expenses — as well as access to transportation — are additional barriers for child care providers and families.

Collectively breaking down barriers

The advisory board includes representatives from child care providers, local businesses, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, local school districts, non-profit organizations and the community. The effort is being coordinated by the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance.

“By bringing together high-impact organizations and individuals, we can collectively leverage their resources, expertise and influence to improve lives in Bay City and throughout our region,” Patrick-Singleton said.

The advisory board is developing three programs that will be accessible to all licensed child care providers and qualifying families in Bay City. These are: 

  • Customizable coaching — This pilot project will build a cohort of trained “trainers” who will work onsite at child care centers to teach new employees to provide a high standard of services. 
  • A revolving fund — A fund will be created to assist qualifying families and licensed providers with temporary funding for child care while they await payment from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This will assist the families and providers who have traditionally had to wait up to six weeks from the time MDHHS child care assistance has been approved to the time payments begin. 
  • Medical assistance program — Most child care providers cannot afford to provide insurance to their staff. By working with local medical clinics, a structure is being built to provide services for the uninsured and underinsured. 

Patrick-Singleton said that while this program is focused specifically on Bay City, the Michigan Health Improvement team hopes to expand these efforts — as they’re proven successful — to additional communities throughout eastern and central Michigan. 

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