Tackling Child Care Challenges is Front and Center

As we learned during our online session with Whitney Cesares, MD, MPH, FAAP; Founder & CEO of “Modern Mommy Doc” teaching working Moms how to go from conflicted to centered is an ongoing challenge.

Busy households continue to struggle balancing so much. But help may be on the way according to Governor Mike Parson’s State of the State Address. Health care, mental health care and child care shortages were among a myriad of health and social services issues Gov. Parson targeted.

Parents have struggled for years in Missouri to find affordable, quality day care for their young children. The COVID-19 pandemic stressed already-shorthanded and underpaid day care providers, many of whom shuttered their doors because of rising costs and difficulty finding adequate staffing.

That led, Parson said, to many Missouri parents being forced to choose between working and staying at home and caring for their families.

“Prior to COVID-19,” he said, “more than 50 percent of Missouri residents lived in an area with a shortage of child care. We know that problem has worsened with one third of facilities no longer open after the pandemic.

“We need to do better for our parents, children, providers and businesses.”

The governor proposed three new child care tax credit programs. The programs are intended to improve child care facilities, support employers who support their workers with childcare assistance and allow child care workers to receive pay increases.

Parson also proposed $56 million in his budget to begin expanding pre-Kindergarten programs for all Missouri children in low-income families. He also announced a proposal for three new child care tax programs. He also mentioned a proposed $78 million increase to child care subsidy rates for providers across Missouri.

“Together, these actions will help more child care providers to start their business, to stay in business or expand their business,” Parson said.

“Last year, we made historic investments in health and mental health, including the new State One Health Lab, which states across the nation are using as a model for their own plans,” Parson said. “Now … frankly, an area in which we are heartbroken to be failing is maternal mortality. Currently, Missouri ranks 44th in the United States for our abnormally high maternal mortality rate.”

He described Missouri’s rank as “embarrassing and unacceptable.”

Missouri has been talking about that for years, Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, the House minority floor leader, said during a stand-up response immediately following the address.

“We’ve had lots of initiatives,” Quade said. “We’ve had task force after task force looking at this issue.”

So Quade said she was glad Parson is tackling it.

Parson proposed the state include $4.3 million in the budget for a new maternal mortality prevention plan to help address preventable deaths of expecting and postpartum mothers.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services estimates that 75 percent of maternal deaths are preventable with at least one meaningful change to treatment, Parson said.

The governor also proposed spending about $3.5 million to increase the number of youth behavioral liaisons. Liaisons are distributed among community behavioral health organizations to provide or coordinate training and consultation on behavioral health issues specific to youth for school personnel, juvenile justice and court staff. Missouri currently has 31 and the proposed budget would add 27.

Parson also wishes to transform rural community health by investing $15 million in creation of “hubs,” at six rural hospitals. The hubs would address social determinants of health, thereby reducing hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also recognized Sharon Winton during the State of the State Address to acknowledge her grit and determination to remain open during the challenges of the recent past.

Winton has been the director of Discovery Place Daycare, a child care facility that serves Jefferson City and the surrounding area, for 33 years. Discovery Place serves children from early childhood up until age 6.

Parson highlighted how the state’s Office of Childhood provided services to help Discovery Place through financial hardship.

“We received some payroll protection plans,” Winton said, “which helped us through the lean period, particularly in the heart of COVID. Without those funds being made available to us, we probably would have folded after 33 years.”

Winton also said the organization received grants from the Office of Childhood to improve technological equipment and upgrade Discovery Place’s facilities.

She added, “There are a lot of things that are needed in early child care: access to training, access to better funding, better food opportunities.”

These are all issues that have been highlighted by United WE with many members of the GMLF alumnae community providing leadership to encourage Governor Parson and other elected officials to prioritize childcare for Missouri’s economy, women, and families. United WE has been a leader in these policy discussions and their work over the past three years, including a 2-year national childcare licensing study, the Status of Women in Missouri report, and the Missouri Town Hall report; as well as our collaborations with partners like Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe and the Missouri State Chamber have positioned Missouri to serve as a national leader in childcare with key research findings and effective childcare solutions.

Portions of this article are taken from news reports on the Governor’s Address.