United Way launches child care initiative
The gap between the need for child care and its availability and accessibility is nearly three times higher than the state average in Southwest Virginia, where parents lack child care services for more than 7,000 children under age 5, according to a 2019 report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Child care is not cost-effective for many Southwest Virginia families because it can nearly cancel out a parent’s take-home pay, says Travis Staton, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Virginia.
With the median household income in some Southwest counties hovering around $30,000, the most a minimum wage worker can expect to bring home after Social Security and taxes is around $15,200 a year. But the average annual child care cost in the region is around $10,600, according to a 2020 United Way report.
“If we want to get people back to work and gainfully employed and get our employers running at their fullest capacity, we’ve really got to work to fill those gaps,” Staton says.
In December 2021, the United Way of Southwest Virginia launched Ready SWVA, an initiative to expand access to affordable child care, strengthen the provider network and increase the number of credentialed teachers.
If the General Assembly grants its $7 million request, United Way will adapt buildings into five new child care centers across the region, creating at least 324 additional slots each year for children under age 5. Another $9 million in state funding would cover operations for three years, including hiring 62 educators at a base pay of $15 per hour plus benefits.
Child care fees for parents and guardians working or attending college would be determined on a need-based sliding scale, possibly through a private subsidy fund.
To help lower costs, the nonprofit will form a shared services alliance, consolidating back office functions for 206 local child care providers and the five new centers.
As another part of Ready SWVA, United Way also will partner with local colleges and universities to provide incentives, resources and technical support for child care teachers to enroll in the state’s Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead (G3) program for early childhood and K-12 education.
“This is transformational,” says House of Delegates Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City. “Bringing business training, education and child care all into the same room is going to create a win-win for everybody.”