Social Services Today

Child care services in Durham
Jul. 17, 2013 @ 10:56 PM

For parents to be self-sufficient and able to advance in their personal and professional lives, they need child care. And for children to start school ready to succeed, they need their care to be high-quality.  That’s why the Durham Department of Social Services (DSS) is committed to partnering with Child Care Services Association and Durham’s Partnership for Children to help Durham families access and afford high-quality child care.

For many low-income Durham families, the federally funded child care subsidy provided by DSS’s Child Care Subsidy Program enables the parents to work toward economic independence. The philosophy of the program is to empower parents to become self-sufficient by attending school or going to work. In the fiscal year which just ended June 30th, DSS managed $14,265,132 in child care subsidy funds. Our 2013-14 estimated allocation is $13,978,356. Parents who meet income eligibility requirements and are working or in school may choose a three-, four- or five-star child care facility contracted with DSS.

With the increase in unemployment in our state and county, we have seen an increase in the need for child care subsidy. Unfortunately, that increase in demand has not been matched by an increase in state funding, which means there are many families on our waiting list.  During the 2012-13 fiscal year, Durham DSS’s child care subsidy unit served 3,624 children. As of June 21, 2013, 1,841 families were on a waiting list for program funds.  Unlike Medicaid and Food and Nutrition services—which are entitlement programs, meaning all who qualify must be served — child care subsidy is a budget-driven program impacted by funding availability.  This often means that there is a long wait list.

Durham DSS is just one of the organizations making subsidy funds available to low-income Durham County families needing child care.  Another child care resource in the county is NC Pre-K, which is administered by Durham’s Partnership for Children. Durham’s Partnership, Child Care Services Association, Durham Public Schools, Operation Breakthrough (Head Start) and DSS collaborate to take applications each spring. NC Pre-K serves children who are 4 years old by the school cut-off date of the current school year. Selections for the program will be made in early August for the 2013-14 school year.

In addition, Early Head Start — which is administered by Durham’s Partnership for Children — offers support to children from birth up to age 3.  To make it easier for families to access these myriad child care subsidy services, DSS’s child care subsidy unit, Early Head Start, Durham’s Partnership for Children and Child Care Services Association are in the same building. The Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center, at 1201 S. Briggs Avenue in Durham, offers child care providers, families and child care advocates a one-stop resource center for all of their child care needs. The Resource Center building is also home to Durham County DSS Child Care Subsidy program, which provides child care subsidies to low-income, working families.

We know how important it is for children to see their parents go to work.  And when a parent is working and able to provide for the family, they are better parents because they are happier. The expense of child care makes it difficult for many families to afford it. And without care, parents can’t work and provide for their children.  We will continue to work with our partners to help as many Durham families as we can afford this essential service.

Michael Becketts is director of the Durham County Department of Social Services. His column appears in The Durham Herald monthly.