Campus-based child care has helped student-parents; Democrats evaluate expansion, affordability

‘Being able to take the burden of child care off their shoulders is just one small piece of the puzzle to their success,’ Kelly Lake, CCAMPIS project director, said

By: - April 28, 2022 1:24 pm

May Yaghnam, a Community College of Philadelphia student and mother of four, speaks during a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing on child care and higher education on Thursday, April 28, 2022. (Screenshot)

May Yaghnam, a Community College of Philadelphia student and mother of four, almost dropped out of school and gave up on earning a degree because she couldn’t find affordable child care during class time.

That is until she learned about Child Care Access Means Parents In School, which supports low-income parents in postsecondary education with campus-based child care services. The U.S. Department of Education awarded grant funding to the college in 2018 to launch the four-year program.

“I never could have come this far without them,” Yaghnam, holding back tears while speaking to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Thursday, said.

Though present before COVID-19, the child care crisis was exacerbated by the pandemic, with parents putting their education and careers on hold as kids stayed home. Now, lawmakers are evaluating ways to invest in and create affordable services, so programs don’t have to depend on grant money or donations to fund services.

On Thursday, student-parents and child care providers said additional funding for campus-based programs could help sustain care and address student retention rates across Pennsylvania schools.

“Our system isn’t designed to fulfill those needs as well as it could,” Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said.

In Pennsylvania, the average annual cost of infant care is $11,842 — $987 per month — according to data from the Economic Policy Institute. The estimated care for a 4-year-old costs $9,773 — $814 each month. 

Child Care Access Means Parents In School — CCAMPIS — provides a monthly $1,000 per-child stipend paid directly to child care providers. The program aims to address rising child care costs, one of the most expensive prices families face. Student-parents enrolled in CCAMPIS must be in good academic standing and registered for a minimum of six credits or three for nursing and health students.

Caring for kids while attending school is a balancing act, Yaghnam said, especially for her three- and five-year-olds. But with help from CCAMPIS, she was able to drop her kids off at the child care center and go to class without worrying about who was watching them.

Student-parents who rely on CCAMPIS have time to attend class, complete coursework, and keep up with parenting duties. Outside of providing financial assistance for the program, CCAMPIS offers student-parents parenting education workshops, CPR and first aid training, child development, scholarship opportunities, and financial literacy guidance.

“Being able to take the burden of child care off their shoulders is just one small piece of the puzzle to their success,” Kelly Lake, CCAMPIS project director, said.

But the Community College of Philadelphia CCAMPIS program, with 55 student-parents currently enrolled, is at the mercy of the federal government. Currently funded until September 30, college officials are working on asking the U.S. Department of Education for a no-cost, one-year extension and plans to reapply for another four-year grant cycle.

“However, if DOE decides to not renew our grant, our program will end, and the college has no other financial support programs in place for child care,” Kelly Lake, CCAMPIS project director, said. “I can’t imagine having to tell our student-parents that we can no longer help them. I don’t know how they will be able to stay enrolled in college and persist to graduation without our program. That is my ultimate worry.”

Lake added that the CCAMPIS program would be a great supplemental program to serve as a backup, telling lawmakers that there should be more funding for child care centers and staff outside of grant services. 

State funding would be a “game-changer,” Kalani Palmer, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and CCAMPIS project director, said — especially in rural communities.

Along the Way, a nonprofit that focuses on providing home-based care to kids, serves “the most under-resourced” communities, offering services to single-mother households and families with nontraditional work hours.

Ninety percent of Along the Way clients are women of color, Executive Director Kristina Valdez told lawmakers. Most often, their clients are trauma survivors, and Along the Way — with help from community partnerships — helps them break the cycle of poverty, Valdez said.

“We’ve watched part-time retail workers become registered nurses. We’ve seen CNAs and waitresses become business owners,” she said. “We’ve seen first-hand that even among the most under-resourced populations when these strong women are supported in the ways they need, they self-invest in their families and later come back to serve the women and families still stuck in the cycle of poverty.”

Valdez, who was a single mom and could have benefited from a service like Along the Way, added that single mothers who receive child care support are almost 40 percent more likely to maintain employment over two years compared to those who don’t have help.

Schwank said programs to address child care affordability, housing insecurity, and hunger should be system-wide, especially in school settings.

“They’re good things, and we should be doing them,” Schwank said, adding that the programs should be steadily funded rather than donation or grant-based resources.

Consistent funding would be “life-changing,” Lake said. That should be the standard for programs with proven results, she added.

The Community College of Philadelphia CCAMPIS also serves as a retention tool, Lake said.

“We recruit student-parents to the program, and our goal is to keep them with us until we see them cross the stage at graduation,” she said. “Our recruitment at the college, our admissions, all of that should be part of that program. It shouldn’t be grant-funded.”

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a series of measures to support families, specifically with child care, as part of his final budget proposal. However, Republicans, who hold the majority in Harrisburg, have already pushed back and criticized the outgoing governor’s spending plan, saying it uses unrealistic projections.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, noted Wolf’s proposal to use $500 million for the Pennsylvania Opportunity Program, which would provide direct payments to Pennsylvania households with an income of $80,000 or less. The program, announced earlier this year, aims to help families recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic and manage increased living costs.

“As we go into our budget season, talking with you guys is really impacting what it is that we’re going to talk about at the table,” Cappelletti told panelists.

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