Lack of availability and high cost of child care leaving many working women in tough predicament

BOSTON — Finding quality child care that’s affordable has always been a challenge for parents, but now it’s turning into a crisis for many families.

Some centers that closed during the pandemic never reopened, impacting the ability of some parents, predominantly women, to work outside the home.

“For everyone I know, it’s a constant struggle,” Angela Smith, a Brookline mother, said. “For those who don’t have family in town to help out, who can’t afford nannies or au pairs, it’s really a source of stress.”

Jian Fan’s wife is expecting their third child. The cost of child care is changing the West Roxbury family’s plans.

“That’s why my wife just can’t work. She has to stay at home with the kids and take care of them,” he said.

Many working families are having trouble working out the math when it comes to child care for their children.

“Massachusetts is one of the most expensive states to raise a child 0-5,” said Fernanda Campbell, Ph.D., Senior Manager of Research at the Boston Opportunity Agenda.

Cost is one thing -- finding an available slot is another.

Campbell just oversaw the publication of “Boston’s Childcare Supply Crisis – The Continued Impact of the Pandemic.” The report concluded about 1,500 child care seats were permanently lost, just in Boston, during the pandemic.

“They cannot find teachers and they are closing centers here,” explained Campbell.

Low pay is the main culprit according to Campbell. Still, many families can’t afford what it costs to enroll a child.

“We need to be making radical change,” said Campbell. “One thing we identified when we were doing our report was that centers that accepted subsidies from the government before the pandemic were four times more likely to reopen.”

A bill to fund universal early education was filed on Beacon Hill earlier this year.

The Biden Administration is making expanded child care part of the second infrastructure package.

Now the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education, a collection of well-known businesses, is advocating for the government to fix the child care industry.

They know they’ll face labor shortages if parents can’t find workable solutions.

“The people paying the cost are two-fold, women and low-income women more so than anyone else, so those are the people who need more support, more flexibility,” said Elaine Varelas, Managing Director at Keystone Partners, a human resource consulting firm in Boston.

“Corporate America is definitely conscious about the need for childcare,” added Varelas.

Rose Nobrega, a program director for The Learning Experience, a child care company with six centers in Massachusetts, is encouraged by what policymakers are now discussing.

Both she and Brandi Santos, another program director, are happy people are talking about early education programs because they know what a difference they can make in a child’s life.

“Their faces just light up when they enter the classroom. They see all the friends they’re going to make,” said Santos.

“There’s purpose behind the play,” added Nobrega. “Everything we do is setting them up for success, so I really think that needs to be looked at closer and understood.”

Because if it’s not, even more workers, mostly women, might step out of the workforce.

“Because when it comes down it, our kids are our priority and so we have to make tough decisions sometimes,” said Angela Smith.

The average cost of infant care is almost $21,000 a year in Massachusetts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

That’s the second-highest in the country.