Report: Student parents need better access to child care

Edwin J. Viera

(Virginia News Connection) A new report highlights the need for better access to child care for college level student parents. 

The report, from Generation Hope, finds 92 percent of student parents surveyed were either unaware of on-campus child care options or didn't have access to them. 

To get by, 71 percent said they rely on family, friends and other forms of informal child care. 

Some schools do have child care on campus, but Nicole Lynn Lewis - founder and CEO of Generation Hope - said there are numerous reasons student parents aren't able to use it.

"They don't use it for a variety of reasons," said Lewis, "ranging from - there is a long waiting list, or it's too expensive, or it's not offered during times when I need care."

One way to ensure parents have access to child care is for officials to provide funding to colleges for better child care programs. 

The Department of Education's Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools grant program allocates funding to colleges and universities for just such a purpose. In 2022, the program awarded 301 grants, averaging over $270,000 each. 

Beyond funding, colleges are also faced with a lack of data about how many students are also parents. Lewis said she thinks this data can help colleges understand that population's needs and what can be helpful to them. 

But, she said, campuses must work together with student parents to develop these solutions.

"We also want to see student parents at the table helping to make these decisions, helping to craft solutions," said Lewis. "What we see when things fail is that we're not engaging the people who are most impacted."

She added that making child care more accessible also means making it more affordable. 

Over 80 percent of student parents surveyed reported an annual household income under $30,000. 

But, a 2023 report from the Economic Policy Institute finds the average annual costs of infant child care in Virginia is over $14,000, equaling over $1,100 a month.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.