Community advocates say home-based family child care could play a major role in closing gaps in access across Kentucky during the pandemic and beyond, but current zoning creates obstacles for individuals interested in opening licensed and regulated home child-care centers.
In a recent survey conducted by Kentucky Youth Advocates, one in four current family child-care providers said local zoning protocols were a major barrier.
Dawn Thompson, assistant director of Community Coordinated Child Care in Louisville, said a web of regulations, fees, and local politics often deters passionate individuals who could help fill the child-care void.
"In some communities, it's about a sign, or parking, or the traffic, where they are in a neighborhood, or lighting," Thompson outlined.
The Kentucky Senate recently passed Senate Bill 148, which would amend local planning and zoning laws to make it easier to start home child-care businesses.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton.
It's estimated more than half of communities in the Commonwealth are child-care deserts. According to Kentucky Youth Advocates, at least 14% of parents quit or changed their job due to problems with child care for children younger than six.
Thompson noted amid widespread household income loss, more parents are seeking affordable alternatives.
She believes home child-care centers can provide the critical economic infrastructure needed to support parents and the businesses that employ them.
"During the pandemic, people are looking for child-care options, they're looking for smaller group sizes, they're looking for that home setting, and family child care offers both of those," Thompson contended.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.2 million women have left the workforce.
Becky Stacy, administration and advocacy director for the Appalachian Early Childhood Network in Hazard, said since January, an additional 275,000 women have left the workforce, compared with around 71,000 men.
"We believe that opening family home child cares as businesses would be just perfect for working women who have lost their jobs or have had to quit because of child care or other issues," Stacy argued.
The number of family child-care homes across Kentucky continues to drop, from more than 600 a decade ago to currently fewer than 300 across the state.