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Dire State for Child-Care Workers in Idaho

Child-care workers bear the responsibility of both looking after and helping to educate children. (Isaac and Aaron Goldberg/Flickr)
Child-care workers bear the responsibility of both looking after and helping to educate children. (Isaac and Aaron Goldberg/Flickr)
February 13, 2017

BOISE, Idaho -- As the halfway mark in this year's legislative session approaches, issues such as the state's surplus and tax cuts are making headlines. But that could be obscuring one important issue affecting Idaho parents: The dire state of many of the state’s child care providers.

A study by IdahoSTARS showed that more than 60 percent of child care worker respondents made salaries that placed them below the poverty line, and more than 45 percent had no paid benefits.

Janice Fletcher, a professor at the University of Idaho who helped prepare the study, said child care workers bear a great responsibility for children.

"It's both care and education,” Fletcher said. "They're right there providing a satisfying, healthy childhood, as well as helping children meet their potential for learning and readiness for their future experiences."

According to the study, nearly 40 percent of providers make less than $15,000 a year. The median income for Idaho households is about $47,000. Nearly three-quarters of child care programs operate from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. five days a week.

Emotional fatigue and low salaries are the main drivers of burnout among child care providers.

Workers in the child care industry tend to be highly educated, though their compensation does not necessarily reflect this. More than half have education beyond high school, and one-quarter are working toward a college degree.

While it’s crucial that legislators are aware of the struggle of child care workers in the state, Fletcher said it’s important that the business sector understands it too.

"It's important for the business and industry community to see that these are the kinds of things that families are facing when they have providers that are in poverty themselves, or who have no sick days or no vacation days or no health insurance,” she said, "and they are taking their children to that place.”

IdahoSTARS provides opportunities for child care workers to advance in their careers - including help in furthering their education, and a program called Steps to Quality, which helps care workers on the job improve their knowledge and skills.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID