Mothers Tackle Child Care Woes

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Under great stress from welfare reform changes in child care rules, working mothers in the Westhaven/Henry Horner Homes area are taking matters in their own hands.

Westhaven/Horner has nearly 2,500 welfare recipients. That large number for one neighborhood, coupled with the intense rate of children now being found ineligible for Supplemental Security Benefits, shows the critical need for child care in the Westhaven/Horner area as well as the city.

A task force appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Board President John Stroger reports that nearly 12,415 children will require publicly funded day care in the first year of reform. By the year 2000, the report finds a total of about 45,000 children will need child care.

Westhaven/Horner families have approximately 757 infants and toddlers under the age of two, 1,711 children between the ages of two and five, and 282 between the ages of two and a half and five. The Daycare Action Council reports that only seven licensed care providers exist in the 60612 area code, which encompasses Westhaven, offering care to a total of 61 children during day-time hours only. Of these 61 slots, only 23 are open to infants and toddlers. There are 31 child care centers in the 60612 area but almost none offer child care to infants and toddlers who aren’t usually 2.9 months of age. And most only serve as Head Start and Pre-K centers that provide primarily half-day services.

Child care at Westhaven/Horner as well as the city is a critical issue because it involves a parent that has to go out and find work or a teenage parent who will need child care in order to continue their education and eventually find work.

I will give you two examples of this need for more attention to child care and if possible a solution: In August of last year, I decided to pick up the phone and seek child care for my kids, who were then four, two and one. As I dialed, I began to feel anxious because I didn’t know what was going to be the outcome of this call. Someone in an unconcerned voice picked up and immediately, I began to tell this lady about my child care issues. As quick as I could get it out my mouth, I was told that only one of my kids was eligible – the four year old.

That day I called many places and I heard all sorts of reasons that would keep me from obtaining this very-much-needed child care. Things like – “We have room but there is a lengthy waiting list”; “The child has to be pottie trained”; and (the one that really made me mad) “You have to be in school or working to be eligible.” I thought in order to work or go to school that I had to achieve child care first.

That day I slammed the phone down in total disgust as well as tears.

Many mothers will go through this same disgust, like Shareefa Stewart, a first-time mother and laborer with a six-month-old son. Although Stewart supports the idea of welfare reform, she thinks potential working mothers need more child care support.

Stewart was unable to find a child care provider in her neighborhood. Many were inadequately prepared with few toys and no set plan for how to care for children.

“Some were dirty and had vagrants in an out of the building,” she said.

Like many newly working mothers, Stewart has encountered problems with establishing regular child care. Bureaucratic delays meant that her child care provider was not paid for three months.

“Because of that, my child care was almost discontinued” Stewart emphasized.

The chaos over her child care situation caused her undue stress at her new job. If she had to pay the child care out of pocket, she wouldn’t have been left with money for anything else.

“If I had to pay for it off of the salary I was being paid, I would only be working to pay the child care provider,” Stewart said

The best kind of support, Stewart said, would be payment to a child care provider before the mother enters the workforce so she can comfortably search for a job.

“There should at least be an emergency child care fund instead of the initial red tape and waiting two months for the provider to be paid,” Stewart said.

Stewart has suffered all the more because of the recent changes in child care; Recipients must now pay on a sliding scale. Stewart’s child care payments went from $1.08 per week to $20 a week.

“A parent does not need the stress of trying to look for work and worry about child care when most on AFDC are single mothers,” she said.

Westhaven/Horner residents have long understood the need for child care and decided to do something about it.

I am involved in a child care network being developed called Mothers Helping Other Mothers (MHOM). Our 16 committee members have been meeting since spring. We’ve got the attention of the necessary game players – the city, state, Henry Horner Local Advisory Council and the Central West Community Organization headed by Earnest Gates. The network would consist of trained child care providers receiving their licenses through various child care programs like C-Train, a organization specializing in child care training, and the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The committee was focused on providing adequate, safe child care but did not know all of the guidelines. We were helped by officials from North Avenue Day Care and the Salvation Army.

We have decided to use three forms of background checks and to require a complete physical, tuberculosis test and various classes to take in Cardio Pulminary Recitation and first aid. Because every provider is different, the client will be matched with the provider of his or her standards.

Through working with Public Aid, the provider would have to wait 60 days to receive payment. But we at the MHOM Network are seeking to pay our providers within two weeks of starting. Maybe communities everywhere can band together with such an idea. After all, the MHOM program could be a start to the solution to the problem of child care and welfare reform.

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