It’s the greatest act of trust a parent can make -- leaving their child in the care of someone else – but for many families in Chesterfield and across the U.S., securing quality childcare that fits their budget has become a monumental challenge.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing shortage in childcare providers, as many smaller operations concluded it wasn’t cost-effective to comply with regulations and shut down permanently.
In the wake of the global health emergency, a historically tight labor market also has contributed to the rising cost of childcare, forcing providers to continue raising salaries to retain quality employees while passing that added expense on to their customers.
The issue has significant implications for economic development; as Chesterfield continues to attract job-creating projects, having a deep pool of available talent to fill those positions is a top priority.
Likewise, increasing access to childcare has a direct impact on economic mobility for county residents by freeing them to enter the workforce and earn money to support their families.
“So often we hear, ‘I can’t find affordable childcare and that’s why I can’t get a job,’” said Emily Ashley, director of Chesterfield’s Department of Community Engagement and Resources (CER). “Other people want to open their own childcare business because they want to be home with their child, and they know they can take on other children. So let’s create a pathway to make that happen. Let’s stop working in silos and get the information to the people who need it.”
There are presently 114 licensed childcare providers in Chesterfield, including in-home businesses, larger center-based operations and faith-based programs.
In an effort to increase that number, and connect people who seeking employment in the childcare industry with available positions, the county’s Workforce Development Committee recently collaborated with Bryant & Stratton College on a Childcare Resource and Education Workshop.
It was the third installment in Chesterfield’s Learning, Explore and Advance with Possibilities (LEAP) series, which was funded with an economic mobility grant from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
The four-hour, resource-rich networking event featured education and employment information, resource vendors and breakout sessions on various financing programs for people looking to start or expand a childcare business in the county.
“The grant really tries to go beyond ‘Here’s a resource brochure, good luck to you.’ It invites people along on the journey toward economic mobility and tries to help them deal with every barrier they might encounter,” said Ashley.
You can watch a video from the workshop here.
The Workforce Development Committee includes representatives from CER and several other county departments – Economic Development, Social Services, Mental Health and Human Resources – as well as local colleges.
Ashley acknowledged the committee is “trying to better understand” how many Chesterfield families have a parent who isn’t working specifically due to a lack of affordable childcare.
But Kiva Rogers, the county’s Social Services director, noted that statewide data shows a “strong, positive and statistically significant correlation between good, quality childcare and employment in Virginia.”
During development of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed “Building Blocks for Virginia Families” program, state officials found that about two-thirds of Virginia families with children age 6 and under have both parents in the workforce.
“That shifts childcare from ‘something nice to have’ to really a necessity,” Rogers said.
Youngkin’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2025-26 includes $444 million for the childcare initiative, which would maintain current service levels for Chesterfield families that qualify for childcare subsidies.
Since fiscal year 2019, that number has grown from 536 eligible families to 1,859 – a 247% increase.
The Building Blocks initiative prioritizes services for children between birth and age 5 – the period in which the greatest amount of brain development occurs.
In Chesterfield, 63% of children from families that received a childcare subsidy during fiscal year 2023 were in that infant/toddler/preschool age range, Rogers said.
The Virginia Department of Education has launched a website to help families across the state find all licensed childcare providers in their locality. The site also contains information for people who are looking to become a licensed provider.
Locally, staff from CER, Libraries and Social Services are collaborating with Information Systems Technology (IST) to create an Early Childhood Dashboard, through which the county can analyze testing data by census block and determine where additional school readiness resources are needed.
“We want to identify some data-driven results so we can start helping our youngest residents and making an impact in areas that have lower scores,” Ashley said. “We’re currently in the preliminary stages of kicking off this dashboard and hope to have it finished later this year.”
In the meantime, CER and Social Services also have partnered with Constituent and Media Services to launch a yearlong communications campaign about childcare.
The purpose of the campaign, which started Jan. 15, is to increase public awareness and inform Chesterfield families about all of the childcare resources that are available.
Janice Stovall and Caitlyn Plaskett with Social Services answered questions about childcare during an episode of the Chesterfield Behind the Mic podcast. You can listen to it here.