Childcare major hurdle for families on road to self-sufficiency

Published 12:07 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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The number one goal at the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency is to help our neighbors become self-sufficient. But to be self-sufficient, they must have jobs and, for working parents, that often means they also must have childcare.
Unfortunately, childcare is a major hurdle for many families on the road to self-sufficiency, now more than ever. Childcare centers have been struggling to be economically feasible for the past 10 years and the pandemic only exacerbated the issues.
– Many childcare centers had to permanently close because of lack of business during the height of the country’s shutdown (many parents were able to keep their children at home because they were laid off).
– Other centers only temporarily closed, but a lot of their employees found other jobs during this time – and staffing shortages remain prevalent today.
– The centers that did remain open struggled to stay open as they battled COVID cases among their staff and the children.
– Profit margins at childcare centers remain low, while there is a high cost to run the centers especially with ongoing health and safety protocols.
So, even as the world slowly returns to the “new normal,” childcare is becoming more of an issue throughout our region. Costs and regulations are two major factors. It is a heavy lift to open a childcare center. The upfront costs and thin margins do not make this an inviting investment.
Yet, the impacts are critical to our businesses and to our families. Many of the childcare centers are outpacing the price of working. Families cannot work and have negative income.
Another hurdle currently being faced is the job market we are seeing. Wages are not high enough in a childcare center to attract enough employees. If wages are increased, the impact is passed on to families, impacting affordability.
The solution? This is going to take a collaborative effort. There will need to be some public/private partnerships to be successful. While Tennessee does have a certificate program that offsets some of the costs for low-income families, this still can be a hardship for families due to the program not offsetting enough of the costs. It is important for families to pay their share, but with many low-skilled employees, the pay differential is not enough even with the supplement.
There also are tax credits for businesses to provide or supplement childcare. This looks increasingly like a practical option as the fight for quality employees continues.
There also may need to be options from local governments or economic development on possible grants or incentives for childcare providing another benefit to keep businesses attracted to our region.
At UETHDA, we are committed to seeing continued improvements in the low-income sector. Childcare is a significant obstacle as a family strives to move out of poverty and become self-sufficient. Many times entry-level employment does not provide enough to offset the cost of childcare.
We are currently working on options for our region. We want to see current childcare centers succeed. We want to be helpful to them as they continue to improve or expand. We are able to assist with data and also fill in gaps for guidance aside from what Child Care Resource and Referral provides. Sometimes it is good to have a sounding board that is struggling with the same issues and concerns.
We also are looking at additional options for childcare education. This is a collaborative effort that will involve not only agencies like ours, but businesses and government. Childcare is a critical concern for economic development in the region. As plans continue to develop, we are going to see an impact that will enhance our current childcare providers and relieve some of the pressure on businesses and families.
We are excited to work on the pressing childcare issues and look forward to forging partnerships between the private and public sectors. Together, we can achieve results that will help move our families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency!
To learn more or to find a nearby Neighborhood Service Center, please call 423-246-6180 or visit our website at

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