What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

The U.S. has a shortage of licensed child care providers. Can these apps help?

In recent years, the number of licensed in-home child care providers has declined about 20%. According to the Center for American Progress, half the U.S. population lives in areas lacking enough providers, with low-income families and communities of color disproportionately affected. But a new wave of startups aims to help parents and providers to connect. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 12 million children under the age of 5 are in some form of child care here in the U.S. A majority of those children are in home-based day care. But there's been a significant decline in licensed home providers.

    Special correspondent Cat Wise reports on a new wave of start-ups aimed at helping parents.

  • Cat Wise:

    The morning scene at the Ramirez household is likely a familiar one for many families, two working parents up early, getting breakfast on the table.

    Child care has been a big challenge for 32-year-old Reyna Ramirez, who is a full-time medical assistant. She raised her two older children as a single parent.

    Her community, Moreno Valley, California, about 60 miles outside of Los Angeles, is one of the country's many child care deserts, where there are three or more children for every licensed child care slot. Ramirez managed to find spots for her first two children, now 12 and 6, at local day care centers, but she didn't like leaving them there.

  • Reyna Ramirez:

    Back then, I didn't feel like I had too many child care options. It was just so many kids, the centers were so big, so I felt like they couldn't keep an eye on all the kids at the same time.

  • Cat Wise:

    The care was also expensive, $350 a week, nearly half her salary at the time.

    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care that costs families more than 7 percent of their income is considered unaffordable. Personal nannies and child care centers, where overhead costs are high, are often the least affordable options for families.

    Ramirez and her husband wanted to find a different care arrangement for their 1.5-year-old daughter, Jovina. Last march, she learned about a new app called WeeCare that helps connect families with licensed and vetted home-based care providers in their area.

    She now walks Jovina a short distance to a day care, where she's paying about $500 less a month and drop-offs are a lot easier.

    Tonetta Riley is one of some 600 child care providers in three states, California, Minnesota, and Illinois, who have partnered with WeeCare since its launch in 2017.

    In addition to helping families and providers connect via the app, the company also offers services for day care owners, including licensing support, billing and tax assistance. WeeCare takes a percentage of the monthly tuition parents pay through the app, usually around 10 percent.

  • Tonetta Riley:

    I don't have to worry about trying to get payment from parents and things of that nature. All I have to do is just focus on teaching them and helping them become good, healthy citizens.

  • Cat Wise:

    Riley used to work at a day care, where she made just $10 an hour and her family struggled financially. That's a common problem for child care workers in the U.S., where average wages are about $25,000 a year. But Riley says she's no longer struggling.

  • Tonetta Riley:

    My income has tripled. I get a lot more business with WeeCare than I would get on my own.

  • Cat Wise:

    WeeCare is not the only start-up focused on the home-based child care market. Companies like Wonderschool and MyVillage have a similar focus. All have eyes on the prize, the U.S. child care industry's $47 billion of annual revenue.

  • Jessica Chang:

    I want early child care to not be an issue anymore.

  • Cat Wise:

    Jessica Chang is the CEO and co-founder of WeeCare, which is based in a start-up-meets-day care office in Venice Beach, California.

    Chang started the company after having a difficult time finding care for her first child.

  • Jessica Chang:

    We want to increase the supply of home day cares, because we actually think that is the solution for early child care. But we also want to improve the quality.

    The state of California really licenses for safety. That's the number one thing.

  • Cat Wise:

    Not quality.

  • Jessica Chang:

    Not for quality, exactly. We definitely want you to be safe, but how do we actually make sure that the day care is what parents actually want and need for their kids?

  • Cat Wise:

    She says WeeCare ensures quality by vetting providers for experience, among other things. And caregivers who utilize age-appropriate curriculum provided by the company and receive positive parent feedback are given higher ratings on the app.

    Chang also wants to help families find care they can afford.

  • Jessica Chang:

    A lot of preschools charge $1,000 to $2,000 month, while home day cares actually are a lot more affordable. They're about 30 to 40 percent cheaper than preschools.

  • Cat Wise:

    But even those lower rates are a stretch for some.

  • Brianna Braun:

    It's been beyond stressful.

  • Cat Wise:

    Brianna Braun is a 29-year-old single mother in Van Nuys, California. She recently returned to her job as a manager at Best Buy after giving birth to her son Kyrie. She says she tried to find care for him on WeeCare and other child care apps, but the providers near her were out of her price range.

  • Brianna Braun:

    For his age, they were ranging anywhere between $250 a week, up to — I think the most expensive one I found was $400 a week.

    If I were to pay $250 a week, that would be almost half of my salary a month. And then, you know, on top of rent, utilities, food, if he needs anything, it's definitely just not workable for me.

  • Cat Wise:

    Child care is now a daily scramble for Braun. She's out the door most mornings before 5:00 a.m., so she can drop Kyrie off with a friend, an hour out of her way, and get to work on time. She makes $33,000 a year, but was told she doesn't qualify for government child care assistance.

  • Brianna Braun:

    I just feel like they should have more subsidy programs, or even day cares that offer, like, low-income.

  • Cat Wise:

    Michael Olenick agrees.

  • Michael Olenick:

    We have about 1.2 million kids who are eligible for a voucher program, but we only have enough funding for about 300,000.

  • Cat Wise:

    He's the head of the Child Care Resource Center in Los Angeles, one of 60 nonprofits around the state that provide child care subsidies and resources. Olenick says the new wave of start-ups may be helpful for some, but they don't address underlying market realities.

  • Michael Olenick:

    It works in certain parts of Los Angeles, probably works in certain parts of Miami and New York. But in San Bernardino County or rural Iowa, it's not going to work. Parents can't afford the true cost.

    You can't charge enough money in most of the working-class communities, lower-income communities, to make it worth your while.

  • Cat Wise:

    But for those who have been helped by the technology, life is a bit easier these days. WeeCare plans to expand to 15 states in 2020.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Cat Wise in Moreno Valley, Los Angeles.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest