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North Central Michigan College Child Care Initiative Phase One Findings: Surveying Emmet County’s Child Care Landscape

By Karen Ann Kling, Jennifer Wixson, Laura Tuthill, and William D. Lopez

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Emmet County faces a dearth of affordable, quality child care options, with available child care having steadily declined over the past five years. In Michigan, there are about four children under age 12 for every available child care spot. The areas with the least child care availability are often rural and concentrated in northern Michigan, like Emmet County.

The undersupply of child care is a systemic issue that impacts parents, prospective parents, local employers, and child care providers. The child care industry has long been devalued in the U.S., leaving the system underfunded and unsustainable in Emmet County and across the U.S. Yet, we know that high quality, affordable, and reliable child care is essential for the economic stability and mobility of families anywhere.

Responding to this challenge, North Central Michigan College (NCMC) has launched its Child Care Initiative (CCI) Project to lead the development of a community-centered plan for a sustainable and viable local child care system in Emmet County. The first phase of this three-phase project focused on collecting data from the community about views, needs, and ideas for the future of Emmet County’s child care system.

Collecting data on community opinions and experiences is essential to this project to ensure that resident needs are central to decision making and guide further research. Every community faces unique challenges to establishing a child care system. Thus, we must not only look at national and state level trends but collect data local to Emmet County to ensure solutions are tailor-made to the community, feasible for local implementation, and primed for sustainability. This report summarizes the findings from NCMC’s data collection efforts from phase one of the work, in partnership with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. We will use the data collected in phase one to begin developing and prototyping innovations for implementation and evaluation in future stages of work.

Executive Summary

We collected survey responses from 96 business leaders, 271 parents and prospective parents, and 25 child care providers who live or work in Emmet County. Results show the multifaceted nature of child care issues in the region and, at the same time, the willingness of partners across community groups to work together toward a solution. Families with young children are struggling to find the child care they need to support parents’ work schedules. When parents do find child care, it is often too expensive and not always the quality they desire. Child care issues have translated into workplace challenges, with employers recognizing that the lack of available child care has hampered their business’ productivity, growth, and ability to recruit and retain staff. Both working parents and employers agree that parents’ ability to meet child care needs impacts the local economy. They also agree that Emmet County businesses can and should participate in a solution to the child care crisis.

Data from child care providers indicate that low child care availability is inextricably linked to low wages and the lack of benefits for care providers. Fortunately, it seems employers are largely willing to join government leaders, nonprofits, and other advocates in the effort to actualize a vision for a local child care system where parents can find and afford quality care and at the same time, child care providers can receive the compensation they deserve.

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