Ann Arbor-area coalition releases reports on child care challenges and begins to consider solutions

A group of Ann Arbor-area child care providers, families, local businesses, and policymakers has produced two reports highlighting challenges for families who seek child care and those who aim to provide that care.
The Livingston and Washtenaw Counties Child Care Coalition, which was convened by Ann Arbor SPARK, found that 59% of area families do not have access to child care that meets their needs.
Families surveyed listed cost as the top barrier to accessing care. The reports also found that there are 7.5 times as many children under the age of 5 than there are licensed child care slots.
"That points to the obvious need for additional capacity," says Phil Santer, senior vice president and chief of staff for Ann Arbor SPARK. "We need more child care options."
The coalition's reports also showed the extent to which child care providers have been struggling, with 64% of survey respondents concerned with merely keeping their business afloat. A major factor affecting that struggle has been a shortage in child care workers, itself caused by low wages and burnout. The coalition's reports found that 71% of child care staff reported sometimes or often struggling to make ends meet.
According to Santer, the coalition's next step will be to put together "a menu of options" to effect change both at the local and the state level.
For example, Santer says, "We've explored the fact that there are unique zoning definitions for child care facilities in nearly all of the different communities that we have." The coalition is looking at ways to standardize zoning language for child care facilities. Santer says the coalition is also looking at ways to assist child care providers in their business management, such as handling accounts payable.
Aside from "tactical-level things," Santer says coalition members are also considering how to advocate at the state level for regulatory changes that could positively affect child care costs, providers' labor expenses, or other factors that could help build capacity.

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

Photo by Doug Coombe.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.