Commentary: Curing child care’s Catch-22 for working parents

Many parents rely on child care to work but often can’t afford it. We can make it more affordable.

By Mary Cameron Perillo

For The Herald

There is a good reason many young people are delaying having children, or are not having children at all: It is simply too expensive for too many families.

When I dreamed of becoming a parent, I never realized how high the costs of child care would be. But when my first daughter, Penny, was born, I had to stop working. The cost of quality care came out to more than 50 percent of my income, and the numbers just didn’t add up.

But without my income, my family couldn’t meet our basic needs. I had to turn to Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children to help care for my family and ensure my daughter had the health care and nutritious food she needed to thrive. I was fully capable and willing to hold down a job, but because I couldn’t afford child care, I lost my ability to contribute to the economy through employment and spending. We found ourselves in a Catch-22: we weren’t able to afford the high-quality child care our Penny needed, but couldn’t manage on one income.

Now after welcoming Olivia 11 months ago, we know that skimping on the quality of care for our girls isn’t an option. We have leaned on family and friends for care, but I know we are lucky to have a community around us we can rely on. Too many families don’t have that luxury.

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 years than at any point later in our lives. That means that Olivia is undergoing astonishing growth in her body, brain and as a person. And I know that what she experiences during the first few months and years of life has an enormous impact on how she will learn and grow for the rest of her life. The quality of child care for Olivia, Penny and all babies in our state really matters during this important time in their lives.

That’s why I waqs excited that my family was selected by early childhood development nonprofit, Zero to Three, to travel to Washington, D.C., in late April, for an event called Strolling Thunder. We joined babies and their families from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to take Capitol Hill by storm and called on our policymakers to make the potential of every baby a national priority.

Olivia and I were thrilled to share our story with the offices of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, and ask them to support the Child Care for Working Families Act and increase child care funding so that all babies can reach their full potential.

I want to show my girls that if there’s a problem in the world, you need to do what you can to try to fix it. And when babies and families have what they need to thrive, including access to quality, affordable child care, we can ensure a strong future for us all. I urge all Washington families to join me in calling on Congress to Think Babies and Act.

Mary Cameron Perillo lives in Everett.

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