PIC Luncheon explores the challenges of helping parents find safe, nurturing childcare options

The St. Joe Foundation hosted its quarterly Prenatal & Infant Care (PIC) Luncheon on August 18, focusing on quality childcare in Allen County. Speakers and panelists included Allie Sutherland, child development specialist with Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center; Erin Norton, the director of community outreach for Parkview Health’s Women and Children’s Services; Amber Targgart, CEO of Early Childhood Alliance; and Myla Rogers, quality improvement supervisor at Early Childhood Alliance. 

Finding quality childcare is often a complicated, intimidating, and expensive process for caregivers to navigate. Agencies share similar frustrations as they try to support their clients through the necessary yet overwhelming search for trustworthy care. Allie Sutherland shared data on the enormity of the challenge showing research that there are 21,058 children aged 5 and under in Allen County, and yet there are only 269 childcare programs in the county offering 4,725 high-quality spaces.

As Erin Norton outlined, the consequences of not having accessible high-quality childcare are significant. When caregivers don’t have access to childcare, it often leads to an inability to make appointments with doctors or follow orders for in-patient care. That means delayed prenatal care or none at all. When something more serious happens to a mother who needs to be admitted to a hospital, she often can’t because she has no place to leave her children. A lack of access to quality care also leads to preventable deaths from behaviors like practicing unsafe sleep methods (most notably, babies sleeping in beds with other people instead of alone in their own crib, bassinette, or Pack ’N Play) and cases of shaken babies (people most likely to commit this offense are male and unrelated to the baby).

Allie Sutherland echoed the importance of quality childcare, noting that children and babies thrive when they are in safe, healthy environments, and experience detrimental effects when they aren’t. While there are all types of licensed and unlicensed, regulated and unregulated care, there are ways for parents and caregivers to advocate for themselves and their children. Caregivers should look for state-quality level 3 or level 4 providers. Unfortunately, the supply doesn’t match the demand, so parents and caregivers should start looking for childcare as early as possible—even while still pregnant. But what happens if someone can’t find licensed or registered care? Sometimes family, friend, or neighbor care is a great resource, but even then, there are still ways to advocate for quality and ensure children are in nurturing environments. Safe sleep practices, appropriate learning opportunities, and other ways to make sure children and babies are being well cared for are possible even within less formal childcare environments. 

Childcare is an enduring concern, and it’s important for it to be high-quality, accessible, and affordable so that all children are safe, healthy, and able to thrive. 

For more information about the PIC Network, as well as past and upcoming events, please visit https://sjchf.org/programs/pic-network/