Parent Meagan Richards Story: Lack of Access to High-Quality Child Care

Meagan Richard’s son Lincoln was born in 2020, shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. An event and trade show producer, the Johnston resident lost her job when the pandemic shut down in-person events. Newly jobless, Meagan found herself struggling at home with an infant son who confounded experts.

“From the day Lincoln was born until he started at his current child care program two months ago, he would cry for a minimum of three hours a day. Nothing his pediatrician or Early Intervention specialists suggested alleviated his distress,” said Meagan.

Meagan planned to continue her career after she had children, so she and her husband had applied for waitlists for multiple high-quality child care programs before Lincoln was even born. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to secure a spot at any of their preferred centers so they had to make do with child care options that were available during a nationwide and statewide staffing crisis for licensed child care programs.

When Lincoln was thirteen months old, he managed to toddle out of the licensed child care center he was attending due to lack of proper supervision, and a stranger found him walking by a busy road and took him back to the center. Meagan and her husband didn’t find out what happened for five days because the center didn’t report it–which they’re mandated to do. The stranger who rescued Lincoln contacted the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) to report the encounter, and DCYF got involved. Meagan describes the incident as “a devastating breach of trust” and she immediately took Lincoln out of the child care program.

Although it took 20 months to get Lincoln into a high-quality child care center, a referral specialist at BrightStars helped him find a spot in a child care program at Meeting Street Early Learning Center–a setting that allows him to thrive. Meagan is now working again and 55% of her paycheck goes to paying for his child care, which is far higher than the federal affordability guideline for child care. Meagan’s family does not qualify for the Child Care Assistance Program at current family income limits, and are thankful they’re able to make the financial situation work. Meagan is horrified to think about what could have happened to her son and how he’d be doing if he hadn’t gotten into his current high-quality program.

“At my son’s last center, they’d tell me that he’d tantrum for two hours straight, and there was nothing they could do to help him, which was consistent with our experience at home,” said Meagan. “Lincoln now has teachers and support staff who are trained to help him with sensory and over-stimulation issues, and he is finally happy and able to communicate with my husband and I and his teachers. He hasn’t had a tantrum since he started at Meeting Street two months ago!”

Meagan is passionate about advocating for all families who are navigating a confusing and overwhelmed system to find high quality child care options to meet their needs. “Families often don’t seek help until they’ve called dozens of child care programs and hit hundreds of dead ends. It shouldn’t take a team of specialists and 55% of your income to enroll your child in a high-quality child care program with qualified educators. The system is not adequately funded and it’s failing our children,” she said.

Meagan strongly supports the RI Early Educator Investment Act to improve early educator compensation in child care, Pre-K, family home visiting, and Early Intervention programs. She stresses that without competitive living wages for early childhood educators, programs and services will continue to face staffing challenges and families will continue to struggle to access high-quality child care and early learning support services.

“How many children will fail to thrive if these crucial services aren’t available? Meeting Street program director Andrea Furtado recently told me that Lincoln came in with challenges and after being given the tools and resources, he decided to rewrite his story,” said Meagan. “It’s been a tough road, but we’re now headed down a positive path. It terrifies me to think about the impossible situation countless families are facing without access to these crucial services.”