Student parents struggle in child care deserts

Published by Robin Bailey on

Layken Woodard, student, represents ASUCC during a resource fair. ASUCC awards cash stipends each term to participating members as well as helping provide food, money and material resources to the student body. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Thirty-five out of Oregon’s 36 counties are considered child care deserts.

Douglas County is one of them.

From early 2020 to 2022, Douglas County’s child care access issues increased in severity: now, less than 10% of infants and toddlers have access to child care, according to a 2023 report from Oregon State University.

Rasheed Malik, Katie Hamm / Center for American Progress

Even when child care is available, it isn’t likely to be affordable; 62% of student parents who need, use or plan to use child care cannot afford the costs of child care, the Hope Center for Community, College and Justice found in a national survey.

“Finding affordable child care with a wide enough range of hours is a struggle,” says Layken Woodard, an AAOT student and parent to a four-year-old.

Woodard came to UCC first as an early childhood education major 16 years ago, when the campus still ran the Ford Childhood Enrichment Center. From 1994 to 2019, the FCEC both provided child care for students and served as a learning lab for the early childhood education program before transitioning operations to Maple Corner Montessori School and Childcare.

Maple Corner Montessori’s tuition — not including registration and materials fees, and depending on the program — can range from $3,420 to $6,600 yearly.

They offer primary, upper and lower elementary as well as middle school programs, caring for children as young as three on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There is no list of openings or current students on the Montessori website, but 211info’s child care directory states their licensed capacity is 39.

Maple Corner Montessori students joined UCC’s spring 2023 production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Jacoby Auditorium. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

UCC does not currently keep count of its student parent population, but had an overall enrollment of 10,422 students in the 2022 to 2023 academic year.

Portland and Chemeketa Community Colleges, among others, were highlighted in 2021 as models of best practice for supporting student parents by the Wellesley Centers for Women. They were two of the only three Oregon community colleges to have student parent resource centers, making UCC one of the 14 other community colleges lacking such facilities.

One of UCC’s opportunity-increasing strategies outlined in its 2023 to 2026 strategic plan is to “grow enrollment and completion of student parents by 15% through alternate scheduling, family-friendly campus practices and family support mechanisms,” as well as “add(ing) child care options for students and employees.”

The importance of these strategies is echoed by educational psychology and early childhood education professor, Valerie Polakow, who wrote in her 2007 book, “Who Cares for Our Children?” about the impact of child care access on college completion: “Higher education institutions have a critical role to play in creating a family-friendly environment for parenting students and ensuring they have access to high quality, affordable, subsidized child care on campus.”

UCC currently addresses this “critical role” with a resource navigator who contacts individual students and directs them to outside resources, like 211info’s child care directory.

Recently, several flyers advertising Take Root Parenting Connection events and classes appeared across campus bulletin boards. Take Root, a grant funded and community supported program located at the Douglas County Educational Service District, offers two major kinds of free opportunities for parents in Douglas, Lake and Klamath counties:

  • Multiple educational series, each spanning several weeks
    • Class series cover topics like self-care, nonverbal communication and positive discipline methods.
  • Targeted one-night workshops
    • Workshops cover specific topics and prioritized populations, like caring for children with ADHD and cultivating early learning skills.

Both series and workshops provide child care and light refreshments at events, which may be virtual, in-person or hybrid. For parents struggling to find adequate child care, Take Root offers both a break from the struggle and free education — a glass of water in Douglas County’s child care desert.

Take Root advertises their series and workshop on social media. Take Root Parenting Connection / Facebook
Take Root’s Parent Support Group is a new, less traditionally structured series founded from parent input. Take Root Parenting Connection / Facebook

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