Being a working mom isn’t easy — I know this because I am one. If the dark circles under my eyes aren’t evidence enough, my bank statement certainly is — day care is expensive. According to one guide, the average working parent spends $600 a month on child care (in cities, that number is closer to $1,000, and in rural communities, it is $350).
The federal government provides financial assistance to eligible parents through the Missouri Child Care Assistance program, regardless of whether or not the day care facility of choice is licensed. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4,000 unlicensed day cares receive $38 million in federal funding per year. In order to continue receiving federal subsidies, Missouri must comply with new standards that the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services set.
To do so, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed Missouri House Bill 1831. Unlicensed child care providers who receive federal or state funding will now be regulated. Some of these regulations are beneficial (tuberculosis testing), while others seem redundant, such as compliance with building codes. Though regulations aimed at keeping children safe are laudable (yes, if there are indeed fire code exemptions for some child care providers, that should be changed), they may have unintended cost consequences.
According to child care director Latonda Moody, new regulations will negatively affect urban communities, including increasing day care costs. The regulations, she says, will incentivize choosing unlicensed child care providers at lower costs with or without government subsidies.
“If day cares have to raise their rates, their kids will be with people who shouldn’t be watching kids — unlicensed homes, unlicensed churches — or they’ll flat out quit their jobs,” Moody said.
Licensing-averse David Stokes, Show-Me Institute’s director of local government policy, agrees with Latonda’s perspective on rising costs.
“Even if you believe that increased licensing would increase child safety — a belief that is unproven — the changes would have the unintended consequence of driving some marginal number of people toward other alternatives,” Stokes said.
Remember, “unlicensed” facilities in Missouri do have to meet some standards. If you increase costs, some providers will really start offering services in the background with no standards.
We all want safe day care facilities for our children. My child’s safety is at the forefront of any decision I make, but I also understand what it means to have a budget. If increased regulation and licensing cause parents to choose “off-the-grid” day care facilities, then this issue should be further examined.