Testimony of Beverly Smith before the Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy Hearing on Child Care
April 22, 1998
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My name is Beverly Smith. I am a divorced mother of two children, Shuenae and Justin; and am raising my nephew, Gavin. I was born in Guyana, South America and moved to the Washington area in 1981 and became a U.S. citizen in 1986. For the past 13 years, I have worked as a bookkeeper and personnel manager for the Child Welfare League of America.
I am grateful to Chairman Chafee and this Committee for holding this hearing and for your interest in child care. As a single working parent, there is no issue of more importance to me than having safe, quality, accessible and affordable child care.
My daughter Shuenae is 12 years old and autistic. She is a sweet girl. She is non-verbal, she has no sense of danger and she cannot take care of herself. She requires 24 hour supervision. She attends the James E. Duckworth School in Beltsville, Maryland, an independent living school which goes up to age 21. School is over at 2:00 in the afternoon and there is no after school program.
From the ages of 2-12, Shuenae was in a family day care home with a wonderful woman who cared very much for her and was willing to work with her special needs. Although Mrs. Cunningham had been caring for Shuenae along with a child in a wheelchair for over 10 years, the county decided at the beginning of this year that she could no longer watch these two older children with special needs and the other kids in her care. Because the other child was her relative, I was given one month to make other arrangements for Shuenae.
This was not easy. I called numerous family day care providers and centers. One county facility close to my home seemed interested until I mentioned that Shuenae is autistic. They then quickly told me "we don't have space." Finally, I luckily stumbled upon an inclusion program at the Beltsville Recreation Center. I am pleased with this program which includes special needs children with regular children and has staff with special education training. But this isn't the end of the story.
Beltsville is an after school program. It is not open on school holidays or during school vacations. I always try to take my vacations to coincide with school breaks. However, my four weeks a year of vacation cannot cover all school holidays. I usually take one week in Spring, two in the Summer, and one at Christmas. During spring vacation this year, I had to locate still another day care provider willing to watch both Shuenae and my son Justin.
This coming summer, Shuenae will attend summer school. But it is only a four day a week program. I will have to find day care for Fridays for her and for the last two weeks of June and the entire month of August when there is no summer school.
The availability of quality day care is a very big problem, but so is the issue of cost. Mrs. Cunningham charged $33/week for after school care for Shuenae. The Beltsville Recreation Center charges $59/week. For the week of Spring vacation, I paid $150. Now, in addition to Shuenae, my 10 year old son Justin goes after school to stay with my sister-in-law. I pay her $20 a week. This totals 16 percent of my take-home pay. And that's for an after school week. For a no-school week, or month as in the summer, I must spend 59 percent of my take-home pay. This is an impossible situation. We live in a two bedroom apartment. The two boys share one room and Shuenae and I share the other. I work hard, and I very much have the dream of owning my own home. Unfortunately, I've got all I can do to keep my head above water.
I know I am lucky in many ways. For the most part, my employer is sensitive to my family situation and allows me to work flexible hours. Nonetheless, it is very stressful to juggle the demands of work and making sure that I have good placements for my children and I'm always there to pick them up on time.
Some things must change: there must be child care for the hours people work and working hours must better conform to hours of child care available. Child care must become affordable, but at the same time child care providers must receive the pay they deserve for the important job that they do. As things stand, the system isn't working terribly well for anyone: the providers, our employers, the parents and most importantly, for our children.
Thank you for your willingness to address these issues.
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