The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 16, 2018

Child care support is critical for advancing job training and workforce development

August 16, 2018

Job training is getting a bipartisan push with recently passed legislation that increases funding for career and technical education. And in July, President Trump signed an executive order to prioritize and expand workforce development.

These efforts can go a long way toward helping people build the skills they need to get higher-paying stable jobs and more sustainable careers and meet employer demand. But an emphasis on workforce development would not be complete without addressing the barriers that many have to accessing training.

Almost three out of five low-income parents only have a high school degree or less. But many parents who want to improve their job skills can’t enroll in education and training because they can’t find or afford child care. Child care is expensive, subsidies are limited, and care is often not available during the evening and weekend hours when many parents need coverage.

Local workforce development systems, which help people access training and jobs, can help parents address their child care needs. Local workforce development boards set policies for and oversee workforce programs and services under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As such, they are the front line for low-income parents seeking education and training.

We recently surveyed 457 local workforce development boards about their supports for parents. Of the 155 boards who responded, many were taking a strategic approach to serving parents, whether by collecting data on families or by developing partnerships to meet families’ needs.

When you provide child care for a family, you are enabling someone to fill the needs of the employers.

–Survey respondent in Broward County, FL.

We then chose five geographically diverse sites among those whose survey responses suggested they were active in supporting child care and interviewed the local board administrators about their child care strategies. Although the survey and interviews may not be representative of all LWDBs and their services to families, they provide useful information for understanding the issue.

The following summarizes insights from the survey and interviews:

  1. Interview respondents said that child care allows parents to participate in education and training, helps parents be better workers, and supports a well-functioning economy. They saw child care as central to local workforce boards achieving their mission of helping clients overcome barriers to work, supporting the local workforce, and meeting employers’ needs. A respondent in Broward County wished “there was a greater realization that when you provide child care for a family, you are enabling someone to fill the needs of the employers.”
  2. Respondents in several of the interview sites also said that the quality of child care matters to helping children get a strong start in life. Child care helps build the future workforce. “We have got to change our language around child care. When people hear ‘child care,’ I think they equate it to day care, babysitting, or other types of activities that aren’t seen as critical or important,” a respondent in Larimer County said. “We have to…give it the importance that it warrants.”
  3. About 64 percent of survey respondents said they provided supportive services for child care. Eighty-four percent of respondents partnered with at least one child care–related organization, including child care resource and referral agencies, Head Start, and individual child care providers. Partnering with nonprofit and community-based organizations allows boards to tap into additional resources and supports. Our local interviews corroborated this finding, as respondents highlighted the importance of partners in helping them meet the child care needs of their clients.
  4. Among our five select sites, we find that some states build coordination and collaboration into their required approach for local workforce boards at the state level, and other local boards take ownership of this issue themselves.
  5. In responses from the survey and the interviews, the most commonly identified challenge in meeting the child care needs of parent clients was inadequate funding for child care and workforce development support services. Several sites have waiting lists for child care assistance and are limited in what they can offer with WIOA funds alone or don’t allow their limited WIOA funds to be used for this purpose. Respondents also pointed out that good-quality affordable care is lacking in their communities, particularly care during nontraditional work hours and options for adolescents and youth.

Local workforce development boards can be strong allies in expanding support for and awareness of the importance of child care for the success of parents, families, the economy, and the future workforce. These five sites demonstrate the effect that local workforce development boards can have when workforce systems are committed to supporting parents and partnering with the child care and education communities.

“It is not a luxury. We need a better structure to support kids and working families. It cannot be a poor person’s issue….We need to elevate the issue as an economic issue and as a moral issue,” a respondent in Larimer County said. “Our economy cannot survive with one parent staying home, like in the ’50s. We have to make it safe and easy for families to access quality child care while they are working.”

On the second day of a weeklong job training program, Angelica Dunn makes a call with her son, Thomas-Johnathan Czarnikow-Dunn, after being asked to leave class during a quiet test-taking time at Metropolitan Community College - Fort Omaha Campus in North Omaha on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Omaha, NE. Angelica had set her alarm clock for 6pm rather than 6am and didn't have time to secure day care for the child. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

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