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SMITHFIELD — Public officials and educational and business leaders learned about child care availability, cost and quality during a Thursday bus tour of Johnston County child care facilities.
Christina Peterson, the Partnership for Children of Johnston County’s community outreach coordinator, organized the tour. Other organizations involved were Johnston Community College, ThinkBabies NC, the North Carolina Early Education Foundation and the Johnston County Health Department.
EARLY YEARS ‘CRITICAL’
Several topics were presented during the tour, including increasing compensation and education standards for child care workers and for businesses to adopt reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees such as providing rooms for breastfeeding.
The need for health insurance for low-income families and how to expand their access to it included an emotional story from a child care teacher on Medicaid. She has a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University.
“I have a 2-year old son who needs therapy,” said Brittany Ackley, a 4- and 5-year-old teacher at Little Believers Academy. “There’s so much insurance doesn’t cover and we have to decide whether to get the therapy or take care of ourselves. My income exceeds Medicaid requirements by $100 and we can’t get the care we need.”
Academy owner Cassandra Brooks said 75 to 80 of the children there are on government subsidies and considered at risk for malnutrition and lack of proper health care. She applauded Ackley for enduring her struggle.
“She has a college degree and goes the extra mile,” said Brooks. “She’s faithful to our center and one of the best. Her son misses play therapy because it’s not covered.”
Other issues presented were increasing child care subsidies for infants and toddlers and expanding the quality of child care programs.
“Every issue touched upon has great merit and particularly when combined, show a tremendous need for greater investment of time, talent and resources from all aspects of community,” said Dwight Morris, executive director of the Johnston County Partnership for Children. “Particularly government, education, business and civic to make sure all our children are receiving the best early education experiences.
“Science is proving over and over how critical the early years are to their optimum development and preparedness for school and the future.”
According to 2017 U.S. Census data from the Partnership for Children, there are 12,160 children under age 5 who live in Johnston County, along 13,160 children ages 5-9 and 15,228 kids ages 10 to 14.
The annual average cost of child care for one infant or toddler in Johnston County is $8,484.
It’s estimated that 4,870 children aren’t enrolled in licensed child care. The monthly cost for full time child care ranges from $721 for infants to $612 for 4-year-olds.
Johnston County’s median annual income is $54,610. Child care is 14 percent of those families’ budgets. But for families who earn minimum wage, child care can account for 52 percent of monthly expenses.
The most licensed programs are located in Smithfield and Selma with 37. Coming in second is northwest Johnston, which includes Clayton and communities outside Middlesex in Nash County and Zebulon in Wake County.
Coming in third is southeast Johnston, which includes Benson, Four Oaks and communities outside the Sampson County town of Newton Grove with 19 licensed child care programs. Southwest Johnston, which includes communities near Angier, Garner and Willow Spring, has 17 programs. Northeast Johnston has the lowest number of licensed child care programs with 12. That area includes Kenly, Pine Level, Princeton and Wilson’s Mills.
There are 7,931 available slots countwide. Of those, 2,770 are reserved for school age children, ages 5-12.
According to the Partnership for Children, special child care services such as weekend hours and second- and third-shift child care are limited.
Most of Johnston County’s licensed child care programs, with 2,297 slots available, have five-star state rankings. Four-star-rated programs have 2,036 slots avaiable, Two-star have programs have 1,973 slots, three-star sites have 1,973 slots, two-star programs have 92 slots and one-star licensed programs have 24 available daytime slots.
Religious-sponsored programs have 448 available slots. Most of those are in Smithfield and Selma. There are none in either southwest or southeast Johnston County.
Participants visited the JCC Child Development Center, Little Believers Academy in Clayton and Travel to Adventures Under the Sun in Four Oaks.
“We are very pleased with the entire experience and grateful for the investment of time and passion from those who spoke to the group about their work with our young children,” said Morris.. “The morning was well organized, very informative and a great experience.”
When the group returned to JCC, Johnston County Health Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson discussed the benefits of home visitation and said it’s an expense Johnston County can’t afford on its own.
Tour participants were Johnston County Commissioner Ted Godwin, Chris Key of Acera Wealth Management; Loretta Byrd of the Benson Chamber of Commerce; Peggy Smith of the Johnston County Board of Education; Caroline Lang of the Johnston County Public Schools preschool program; Kris Kling and Jennifer Templeton, both of the public school system; and Crystal Roberts , Johnston County Public Schools’ chief of communications and engagement.
Morris said the partnership received a grant from the N.C. Early Education Coalition to make two tours possible. The first tour took place in February.
“It is definitely a great opportunity we hope to provide to more of our county government and business leaders,” said Morris. “Being informed through hands-on experience and opportunities to interact provides the greatest awareness.”