Child care providers are an essential part of a foster child’s success — and they deserve a permanent wage increase.

By Dr. Erica Webster, a participant in Ed Trust–NY and Raising NY’s Early Childhood Policy and Advocacy Lab

When I made the decision to become a foster parent, I understood that challenges would accompany my journey, such as forming attachments with children who might eventually return home, navigating their complex needs, fostering relationships with birth parents, and co-parenting with all parties involved. However, one obstacle I underestimated was the difficulty of finding high-quality child care.

While foster parents like myself are automatically eligible for supportive programs like child care assistance, ensuring access becomes complicated when spots are scarce due to a child care availability crisis. This issue has been exacerbated in New York, where many child care programs have closed since the pandemic. This shortage poses a particular challenge for foster parents like me, who often need to secure child care with just 24 hours’ notice of accepting a child into our homes, which is especially challenging with infants or sibling sets.

Moreover, children entering the foster care system often have experienced significant trauma, increasing the likelihood of challenging behaviors or complex needs. I have encountered situations where child care programs turned us down, citing an inability to accommodate a child on the autism spectrum, or struggled to manage the needs of a child with separation anxiety in a new group home daycare. But it is not the fault of these programs that they cannot accommodate children with special needs; often, staff have not had the proper education and/or training, and community-based services are few and far between. Even the highest-quality programs are challenged to recruit and retain staff.

While home-based child care programs offer the convenience of being more readily available on short notice, staff may face challenges in accessing professional development opportunities crucial for effectively caring for children with developmental and behavioral needs. And while they may benefit from one-time bonuses available post-pandemic, those increases are not enough to keep highly qualified (or specially trained) staff in the field, affecting many foster families and children across the state. I have firsthand experience: Despite securing a spot in a brand new group home daycare, the provider experienced difficulties in managing the behaviors of a child with a reactive attachment disorder, who require a significant level of stability and predictability, which was challenging to achieve while the program was still in its early stages.

The shortage of child care programs post-pandemic is the direct result of educators being severely underpaid. In fact, high percentages of this workforce are eligible for public assistance, Medicaid, and child care subsidies. It is time to move beyond bonuses for child care providers and to a permanent wage increase.

Being a foster parent is demanding yet crucial work, made possible with the support of various providers who assist with potty training, manage meltdowns, offer developmental suggestions, and love our children as their own. They are an essential part of a young foster child’s success.

Providing stability and care as a substitute family is challenging, and the additional hurdle of finding child care compounds the difficulty. Therefore, I recommend that this year’s budget allocate much-needed funds to transform the child care industry into a lucrative and stable career option. Foster families like mine, families across New York State, and early childhood educators care deeply about surrounding their children with the care and nurturing support they need to flourish — but need more support. Prioritizing workforce development opportunities, such as increased pay, education incentives, and ongoing professional development, is essential to the prosperity of New York State.