According to the State of Babies Yearbook: 2022, high-quality care from birth to 5 years old yields a return on investment of 13% per year in the form of better outcomes in education, earnings, and health. Despite these benefits, far too few babies have access to high-quality early learning programs. Recent polling by Maryland Family Network of 3,500 parents from across the state found that:
- 29% of parents are using high interest payday loans to cover the cost of child care;
- Almost a third of parents must regularly borrow money from family and friends to pay for child care;
- 40% of parents are giving up healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables to pay for care; and
- Disparities are even more stark for Spanish speaking families who completed the survey: 50% reported that they are giving up prescription medicine, regular medical check-ups, dental work, and emergency medical procedures so they can afford child care and go to work.
With this in mind, Maryland is taking significant steps to address the issues. In recognition of a child care system that burdens families and providers, state leaders recently announced they will move to paying child care programs in advance of serving children, and in monthly increments. This new policy acknowledges upfront costs, the risk of unenrollment, and the time needed to fill a slot when a child exits a program. Additionally, the Maryland State Department of Education will begin to reimburse providers based on enrollment rather than attendance. This return to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funded policy will help strengthen and stabilize the state’s child care industry. Finally, through ARPA funding, Maryland Family Network launched two new child care tools. The first allows families with young children to find real time information about available child care slots and allows child care providers to update their own profiles. The second tool enables Maryland legislators to learn more about their constituents’ needs including identifying child care deserts, the number of providers serving infants and toddlers, and those who accept Child Care Scholarship funds. The map can be searched by county and state legislative or congressional districts. Tools like this go deeper than general child care searches and mapping applications, giving advocates, policymakers, and communities a picture of how much harder it is for families with infants and toddlers to find truly accessible child care.