Smart Start helps meet the cost of quality child care

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By John Gerstenmier
For the Salisbury Post
Everyone today is concerned about cost. Frugal is in. But many are not aware of costs that occur outside their families. If an elderly relative lives at home, you might not realize the typical monthly cost of nursing home care in Rowan County is $6,000. And if your children are grown, you may not know the cost for two preschool children in a four-star, licensed Rowan County child care center might be more than $1,100 per month. For working couples, child care can be an expense comparable to a mortgage payment.
Smart Start Rowan, a nonprofit organization whose programs support children birth to five years old and their families, offers three ways for those with young children to cope with the high cost of child care.
“This program helped me keep my job,” said Glenda, a mother of two, referring to Smart Start Rowan’s Child Care Scholarship program. “Without it, I would have to quit my job and stay home when my second child was born.”
With funds provided by the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Smart Start Rowan is helping Glenda and 116 other parents pay for quality child care.
Here is how the program works. Glenda (a pseudonym) and her husband are both employed and make a gross income of $4,000 each month before deducting taxes and health care premiums. With that income – $48,000 a year – the family exceeds Department of Social Services guidelines. Their wages are too high for child care subsidy aid. But the family of four meets Smart Start Rowan income guidelines, and the couple is eligible for a Child Care Scholarship that could save hundreds of dollars a month. Child Care Scholarships are available to working families whose gross monthly income exceeds up to 25 percent more than DSS income eligibility limits.
“With this program, I have been able to put my children in a top-quality child care center where they learn lots of important things every day,” wrote Glenda in a satisfaction survey. “I am thankful for the program and appreciate it very much.”
Child Care Scholarships are also available for families who are currently attending post-secondary education and exceed the maximum 24 months of child care financial assistance allowed by DSS.
“One of our newest programs is Emergency Child Care Assistance,” said April Furr, Smart Start Rowan’s family support supervisor.
“There is no assigned parent fee for this type of assistance. Rowan County residents with preschool children currently enrolled in licensed child care that have lost their income due to illness, separation, divorce or termination of employment through no fault of their own, are eligible to apply. “The assistance is short term, a maximum of eight weeks,” said Furr. “Hopefully, that’s enough time for a laid-off worker to find employment.”
Currently, only two Rowan families are receiving the assistance. With layoffs and plant closings increasing, and as families learn about the program, that small number is expected to increase.
Smart Start Rowan’s third way to help parents cope with the cost of child care is the More at Four Pre-Kindergarten program.
There is no cost to parents but there are state-mandated income eligibility guidelines. For example, a family of four like Glenda’s could make no more than $43,670 before taxes and deductions to be eligible. When a family’s gross income exceeds the eligibility guidelines, there are some exceptions if families meet certain criteria.
More at Four is a high quality pre-kindergarten program currently serving 337 four-year-old children at 16 sites throughout Rowan County. Children must be four-years-old by August 31 of the program year to apply.
“More at Four is based on the theory that children learn through hands-on play experiences.” said Donna Hogue, Smart Start Rowan’s Early Care & Education supervisor. “Pre-kindergarten includes many planned experiences to enhance children’s learning through play”
The program is only one of two preschool programs in the nation who are meeting all 10 benchmarks for quality.
The deadline for families to apply for More at Four is May 6, although applications will be accepted after that date as openings occur. Top priority is given to children who have never been enrolled in child care, Head Start or pre-school.
To learn more, call April Furr at 704-603-3366 or Donna Hogue at 704-603-3379 or visit our Web site at Applications can be found on the Web site.
Gerstenmier is Executive Director of Smart Start Rowan.