Finding quality day care isn't child's play
Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter is crossing her fingers for a croup-free deadline next month.
I was lucky. While thousands of Montana families have had to stare down the rampant child-care shortage in
the area, we were set. Less than a month after we moved back to Montana with our young son, my husband got a
job at PrintingForLess.com, and that made us eligible for the company's on-site childcare facility. Talk about
luxury. Even our friends in big cities didn't have company-sponsored day care.
At that time, almost three years ago, PFL had the first and only licensed, private-company-sponsored childcare
facility in the state. It still may be. I know that anyone I've told about PFL's facility has been both surprised and
jealous. For my husband and me, PFL Childcare was the lifeline that allowed us to go to work feeling secure
about where our son was until he was old enough for preschool this year.
That's not the way it always works, unfortunately. Families who either by choice or necessity have two parents
working outside the home are at the mercy of a broken system. Most childcare jobs demand endless patience,
long days, and the ability to be enthusiastic and loving with kids who aren't even yours. Oh, and pay is some of
the lowest of any field, which in low-wage Montana is just downright depressing. It's no wonder there is so much
more demand than supply.
The economists among us might say that if the shortage continues, wages and conditions will eventually
improve, more people will be attracted to the field, and the supply will finally grow closer to meeting the needs of
the area. Unfortunately, the invisible hand can't make that happen quickly enough to help people stuck between
jobs and families.
Public preschool is one option that could help, but an outcry of epic proportions — usually involving the word
"warehousing" — seems to arise whenever it is mentioned. Several of the Democratic presidential candidates
have called for universal preschool, but in an era in which even government spending on health insurance for kids
of the working poor can't be taken for granted, a big new system of pre-kindergarten education somehow seems
Maybe private companies like PFL hold the key. The whole atmosphere of the company is different because
employees have easy access to their children during the work day and because kids — and, of course at PFL,
dogs — are part of the company. On Halloween last year, costumed toddlers and preschoolers went trick-ortreating
in a little parade, winding their way through employee quads and visibly changing the mood of every
person there. Who could fail to be charmed by a line of shy kids dressed up as pirates and princesses?
PFL and other family-friendly companies have made a specific choice: to try to engage the whole employee.
Far too many employers see kids and other family obligations as little more than distractions from the bottom line.
Unfortunately for them, there aren't many of us out there who can turn off our other responsibilities every workday
between eight and five. I'm inclined to believe that my family "distractions" are part of what makes me who I am.
Sure, I might have to take care of my child when he gets sick (which always seems to happen when I'm on
deadline, of course), but you can bet that I'll get the work done on time and well if I'm given the flexibility to tend to
my family's needs.
Like I said, I'm lucky. But quality child care and family-friendly workplaces are too important to too many people
to be dependent on something as fickle as luck.