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Employers tout benefits of making child care access easier for employees

Tribune-Democrat - 10/27/2022

Oct. 27—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Child care is a business issue — with many employees having trouble finding it and affording it, which may keep them at home, said Karen Grimm-Thomas, early childhood strategy adviser at Pennsylvania Key.

Her audience on Wednesday for a breakfast seminar at Flair of Country, 841 Airport Road, Richland Township, included 45 human resource directors, county commissioners, local business and civic leaders, and child care industry experts.

Child care is an issue at the center of the economic imbalance communities are experiencing — including in Cambria and Somerset counties — as employers have more jobs than people to fill them, Grimm-Thomas said.

Pennsylvania Key works on behalf of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. Pennsylvania's Independent Fiscal Office, she said, is forecasting the demographic trends to stay constant for the next three years.

"Having more jobs than people to fill them is not going to stop, but there are ways to stop the flow of people out of Pennsylvania," she said.

"There are ways to help people join the labor force or dissuade them from leaving it. That's driving our work here today."

She added: "Employees have child care needs. They need to know how to address them."

Flex scheduling, paid leave, employee assistance programs, flex spending accounts and child care subsidies are a few of the options employers may consider, she said.

Grimm-Thomas said businesses may wince at the cost of such offerings, but they shouldn't, she said.

"Businesses are paying for it already," she said.

Absenteeism and turnover could be diminished through providing some help with child care, she said.

Instituting human resources policies and benefits for child care, or at least providing information about available child care, can help support and retain employees.

But as employers work toward offering child-care opportunities, there is a need for more investment in child care workers as well.

The Early Learning Resource Center provides subsidized child care to low-income people and supplies child care centers with coaches to improve quality.

Amy Streightiff is ELRC director for the region including Cambria County. She said five child care centers opened in the county in the past three months, but three others closed — a case of "fortunately, but unfortunately," she said.

In cases where centers closed, Streightiff finds alternative spots for children. In one case, she said, day care for 40 children was upended by a closure.

She said a commonality among the three centers that closed was a lack of staffing.

"They couldn't find staff to work," she said.

The biggest issue facing the child care industry is how to raise wages for workers. They live in poverty, earning between $8 and $13 an hour, said Andrea Heberlein, executive director of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.

"The pay is an atrocity, and these are the professionals who have the degrees and that take care of our children — who will be our work force one day," she said.

The seminar Wednesday was sponsored by The Learning Lamp, Cambria Regional Chamber, the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission and Vision Together 2025.

The seminar speakers encouraged businesses to establish mutually beneficial agreements with existing child care providers or even set up on-site day cares.

Sheetz Inc. is among the businesses that have opened such facilities.

Sheetz Vice President of Human Resources Stephanie Doliveira urged those in attendance to share information with their human resources departments.

"Ten years ago, HR would say, 'Child care is not our problem.' Well, now it is our problem," she said. "Life is overwhelming for new parents. If you can make it easier for them to find child care, that matters."

On Nov. 10 at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, the United Way of the Laurel Highlands will present findings of research concerning the demand for child care in Cambria and Somerset counties.

"We collected surveys of 1,300 respondents," President and CEO Karen Struble Myers said.

"Access to child care is critical to get people back to work."


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