Recent community forums in Globe-Miami and Payson have jump-started talks about the challenges that working families face to find quality child care that is affordable and available when and where they need it.
The First Things First Gila Region and the chambers of commerce in both communities recently brought together community members to talk about the child care crisis that is making it harder for families to find safe and affordable child care.
“We are a child care desert throughout the entire Gila County area,” said Carolyn Haro, FTF Gila Regional Director. Child care desert refers to areas where there are too few licensed slots for the number of children who need care.
Haro said that her office frequently receives calls from businesses looking for help in finding child care for the children of their employees. And the chamber of commerce has similar experiences, Haro said.
The lack of child care availability makes it challenging to recruit and keep employees in the community. Arizona’s economy loses $1.77 billion annually due to child care challenges, according to a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
“We also have some unique issues because some of our major employers, like the mines and the hospital do 24-hour work,” Haro said. “If the child care in our area is mostly daytime, child care impacts swing shift and night time workers, which impacts the nature of the business.”
At the forum in Globe, community members spoke of raising awareness of child care challenges and giving grace to employees when child care plans fall through.
“Lots of people don’t take into consideration how long it will take to get your kid ready for where you need to go,” said mother Zenada Webb. “Any disruption or random call off because they don’t have a sitter, those are real things and as humans we have to be compassionate.”
Haro suggested that local businesses could share family policies that have been successful so small business owners wouldn’t need to start from scratch.
Others suggested finding ways to help potential child care workers get certified to work at licensed centers, along with talking with the high school, which recently began offering early childhood education classes again to high school students.
A similar child care discussion was held in Payson the following day, with more small business owners, the president of the Payson Chamber of Commerce and public school representatives.
Haro said she hopes the forums raised awareness that child care is not just a family issue, but affects the community as a whole.
She was encouraged by the turnout in both communities and is confident that Gila County can come together to begin finding answers that meet the needs of young children, families and employers. The next step is to pull together a task force from both communities to continue the work from the brainstorming sessions.
“We have a barn-raising mentality here,” she said. “This is a normal part of our culture. If there’s a problem, we come together to work on a solution that makes sense for our community.”