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Availability of affordable child care a concern for student-parents

Lauren Gowans, 25, is a first-year transfer student at the University of Memphis and a mother to a three-year-old son. After moving to Memphis in August, Gowans said she relies completely on child care for her son while she is in class because she has no support system in Memphis. 

“The biggest struggle with balancing child care and school is first finding classes that will fit a schedule where my husband and I won’t have to pay for full-time daycare,” Gowans, a teaching all learners major, said.

Gowans said her son attends Rainbow Child Care Center in Collierville, Tennessee.

“We wanted to enroll our child in a daycare close to home, but (his current childcare center) is too far from campus in the case of an emergency,” Gowans said.

Gowans said she and her husband pay $704 per month for part-time child care for three days a week.

“I was able to find classes for two days a week and one day to myself to complete assignments,” Gowans said. “As a student, it is almost impossible to pay for child care. I wish there was a better answer to child care, especially for students who are parents like myself.”

College students who are parents of dependent children typically juggle the demands of school, work and parenting while struggling to find reliable and affordable child care when they are in class.

Nearly five million undergraduate students nationwide are parents to dependent children, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The study found the availability of campus child care at public four-year institutions has declined from 55 percent in 2003 to just under half of all institutions in 2015.

The Child Development Center at the U of M, located adjacent to the Carpenter Complex, offers on-campus care for children aged 30 months to 12 years. The center is open Monday through Friday beginning at 7:30 a.m. and Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m.

Gowans said she does not use the Child Development Center because she did not get her son’s name onto the waiting list before she received her acceptance letter from the U of M.

“By the time I received my acceptance letter … they were full,” Gowans said.

Gowans said she was told she could be placed on the waiting list and would be unable to receive services until the following semester.

Margaret Scott, child development center manager, said the center’s waiting list begins when parents sign children up during open registration the semester before the child will actually attend.

Scott said when a minimum number of children have been enrolled, she calls the parents to come in and sign a child care contract.

“We have to have eight children enrolled for us to provide care,” Scott said.

Scott said the center offers quality child care for student-parents while they are in class.

“Parents appreciate the … convenience of having their child on campus,” Scott said. “The center is very affordable for student-parents.”

Scott said the tuition is $4 per hour per child and a $30 family registration fee.

“Parents register their child for the days and times that work best for them,” Scott said. “They enroll for the full semester and pay weekly.”

After-hours care is offered during evening class hours if at least eight children will be in attendance.

Another child care option at the U of M is the Barbara K. Lipman Early Childhood School and Research Institute, a training institute for the colleges of education and health and human sciences and a private, open enrollment school for children ages 2 to 5.

Sandra Turner, director of the school, said although the school’s budget does come from parents paying tuition, the Lipman family donates money to assist parents with the school’s tuition.

“President (M. David) Rudd is working very hard on a family-friendly campus for faculty and staff, so we are working with him on how that needs to work,” Turner said.

The school does offer student-staffed child care from 3 to 5:30 p.m., and parents can choose between part-time or full-time care. Turner said the school also offers a summer camp during the month of June.

Student-parents can also use Smart Steps, a child care financial assistance program offered through the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS).

The program is available to students who meet certain income requirements and have children between the ages of 6 weeks to 5 years old. Parents are responsible for a small portion of child care fees based on their income restrictions.

Sky Arnold, DHS press secretary, said the program provides support for families by offering financial assistance to parents while promoting development and learning for their children.

Arnold said there are currently 736 student-parents participating in the Smart Steps program.

Darrell Ray, U of M vice president of student affairs, said child care is a very personal family issue.

“If there are specific needs (student-parents) present, we would work on an individual basis to determine how to assist or refer a student,” Ray said.

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