Child care roundtable

Leah Spangler, CEO of The Learning Lamp and Ignite Education Solutions, speaks about child care during a roundtable discussion Tuesday, March 26, 2019, at Penn Highlands Community College in Richland Township.

A group of about 30 people participated in a roundtable discussion focusing on the topic of child care at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College’s Richland campus on Tuesday.

Participants, who included business leaders, child care providers and local employers, worked together during the event to address child care needs across the region as well as to provide solutions to some of the challenges working parents may face.

Ryan Riley, executive director for the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, was in the area Tuesday morning to sit in and observe the child care conversation.

“The link to the business community is we have better employees today and a better workforce tomorrow because we’re able to provide, in our local community, quality child care,” Riley said. “The lack of quality child care throughout Pennsylvania costs our economy about $2.5 billion a year. 

“Pennsylvania is one of the leaders in the nation for working mothers,” he said. “The national average is about

60 percent; we have about

69 percent of working moms.

“Our workforce relies on those moms to return to the workforce, and in place of that, they need quality child care.” 

Riley said he was hoping to walk away from Tuesday’s talks with a better understanding of what services are being offered in the community, and how to better connect the needs of the business community with child care providers.  

“We then go back and advocate for that,” he said. “The governor this year is seeking a

$60 million increase in pre-K, and an increase in home visiting. So I’m here to obviously share that more investment in this area means more access for our children.”

The roundtable discussion, which was held by JARI and The Learning Lamp, provided those in attendance with an overview on the impact the need for child care has on the local and national economies.

According to statistics provided by the Early Care and Learning Council, for every dollar invested in high-quality early care and education, communities save between $4 and $17 in future costs of remedial and special education, juvenile justice and welfare support.

A large portion of Tuesday’s discussion focused on the challenges working parents face with child care, such as convenience, transportation, affordability and availability.

Amy O’Hara, human resources business partner for Concentrix, was one of the many stakeholders in attendance.

She said the event sparked an interest with her because of the issues surrounding child care at her place of business.

“I feel the need to help other people get through some of the issues that I went through when my children were small,” O’Hara said. “Like trying to find adequate day care and just help them so that they can get to work and be productive and not have to worry about their children.”

O’Hara, similar to others who participated in the discussion, walked away from the event feeling optimistic.

Leah Spangler, CEO of The Learning Lamp, said: “I think that employers were very honest about the things that they are seeing in the workforce related to what employees are experiencing. It was interesting to hear how the shortage of child care or the absence of care available on weekends and evenings is effecting the workforce.

“I also thought it was interesting to hear how transportation factors into it as well.”

Event organizers said the plan moving forward is now to review Tuesday’s conversations and connect them with the proper organizations and businesses. 

“In numbers we can probably do more than everyone trying to do things on their own,” said Debra Balog, JARI’s director of workforce development. “So our goal then is to at least get something together to start addressing this issue.”

Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.

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