Providence resident Janette Perez has struggled to access affordable high-quality child care for her family for eight years. Her three children are currently three, five, and eleven, and she’s faced numerous barriers navigating the child care system since her oldest was born.
“My stress level has been incredibly high from when each of my kids were born until they were eligible for the state-run Pre-K lottery,” said Janette. “When my oldest turned three, I was able to enroll her in a free full time, high quality Head Start program, which was an incredible relief. This huge barrier was suddenly removed–I could complete my Bachelor’s degree when my oldest was three and continue to support my family. I also felt better knowing that she was being given the tools to thrive socially and emotionally.”
Janette is grateful that access to Head Start and RI Pre-K allowed her to complete both her Bachelor’s degree and her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) at Rhode Island College. She was surprised that figuring out how to access child care was the hardest part of her path to completing her education. Janette found herself simultaneously juggling a full course load, completing a full time internship, and working a full time work study job. Since her schedule didn’t allow her to earn enough to pay for child care out of pocket, she sought child care assistance from the state of Rhode Island, and was told that she did not qualify because she wasn’t working enough paid hours.
“When my oldest daughter was three, I went to DHS to apply for child care assistance. In what was hopefully an isolated incident, the case worker advised me to drop out of school and apply for cash assistance so I could be eligible for child care,” said Janette. “I’m not sure what her intentions were, but her shocking words lit a fire under me and I learned to get creative and resourceful with my school scholarships and my connections to people who knew about lesser-known resources for families who were struggling. Although I do feel empowered, it’s difficult for a family of five on just my partner’s salary. It shouldn’t be this difficult for families with young children to work to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Janette cites accessing child care as the biggest cause of stress in her life. “I went to school to get my family out of the cycle of poverty, and it hurts to know that despite those degrees, I’m back in the cycle since I can’t pay for child care that is affordable, high quality, and safe to work full time–I just feel stuck.” she said.
Even though Janette was not able to access child care assistance through the state, she encourages legislators to bolster support for the program, and to increase access to high quality child care for all Rhode Island families. Janette’s and other parents’ advocacy led to funding for a pilot program that allowed some low-income college students in RI to access the Child Care Assistance Program. This pilot program ran from October 2021 through April 2022 and helped 10 low-income families with 21 children before the allocated funds were depleted. Governor McKee’s proposed FY23 budget and the RI Child Care Assistance bill pending at the State House would make this pilot program permanent to help low-income college students get help paying for child care so they can earn degrees. Passage of the RI Child Care is Essential bill will also dramatically expand access to the Child Care Assistance Program to help more low- and moderate-income working families.
”Creating a system of affordable, high quality child care options is key to families thriving,” said Janette. “You need to offer high quality child care so parents can work with the peace of mind that their children are safe and being set up to succeed in school. It’s an investment in society–children are our future, and they need a foundation that will allow them to succeed.”