How Can I Do It All? Addressing Infant Child Care Barriers at Clark

Jack Ireland plays with his toy car. (Annika Larman/The Indy)
Jack Ireland plays with his toy car. (Annika Larman/The Indy)

Taking a full credit load of courses, she was faced with having to pause her education when it had just begun.

Elle Lowe thought she had it all planned out. After starting her education at Clark College in Spring 2017, she set her sights on becoming a graphic designer. However, a few weeks into her first quarter, she learned that she was pregnant.  

A year after giving birth to her baby boy, Lowe was able to return to school. Now with a 15-month-old son and 25 weeks into her second pregnancy, she is facing the same dilemma that she was faced with three years ago.

Lowe is not alone. During his State of the College address in January, College President Bob Knight mentioned that about a quarter of Clark students have dependent children.

Student parents like Lowe, who are having or currently have infants, face one of the many educational barriers present at Clark. After their parental leave is over, student parents with plans to continue their education might want to o bring their infant to Clark’s on-campus daycare center while they attend classes.

Unfortunately, the daycare center does not currently have the ability to take children under the age of one. This is the result of the daycare center not having the space, the funding or the licensing to host rooms for infants.

There are other daycare options available off campus, but for parents with tight schedules convenience can be a huge factor in their academic success. As a result parents could prolonging their graduation date by over year, as they have to stay home until their child reaches the eligible age for the daycare program.

This was the case for Lowe, who had to make the hard decision to take a year off when she learned she was pregnant.

“I can’t afford child care and with working full-time and going to school, it was hard,” Lowe said. “My friends informed me that when they were in school they didn’t take their babies into Clark’s child care program.”

From left: Brookelynn McCarthy and Jack Ireland (Annika Larman/The Indy)

After discovering the pregnancy, Lowe finished out the quarter and took time off. During this period she worked extra hours and saved as much money as she could. With the pregnancy already being hard for her, Lowe knew in November of 2017 that she would not be able to return to school right away.

“I knew that it was probably for the best for bonding with my baby, but I never wanted to take that long of a period time off,” she said.

Parents and guardians who face the struggles of juggling infant child care while staying on track with graduation are not going unnoticed. Those in charge of the daycare program are aware of the barriers parents are facing.

The Director of Child and Family Services Michele Volk, realizes the struggle challenge these student parents face while pursuing their education. However, this barrier reaches far beyond Clark College.

“Infant and toddler spaces are especially at a crisis point in Washington State,” Volk said.

Other universities and community colleges that provide their own daycare programs also have also restricted eligible age requirements. Washington State University only accepts children between the ages of three and five and Oregon State University does not accept children under the age of three.

From left: Lincoln Bishop, Jack Ireland, Henry Bombadil, and Connor Stahley-Hendrickson (Annika Larman/The Indy)

There are some colleges that have child care programs for infants. Clackamas Community College starts accepting infants at six weeks and Mt. Hood Community College accepts infants from birth through five years of age.  

According to the 2019 Public Policy Agenda from Child Care Aware of Washington, a non-profit organization that works to ensure access to high quality child care, Washington is in the midst of a child care crisis. Even though child care and early learning are viewed as the best investment the state can make, less than one percent of the state’s budget is dedicated to early learning, a statement from the organization reads.

The policy brings awareness of the fact that child care capacity is not enough to meet the state’s needs. With 251,000 children needing child care in the state of Washington, only 112,000 of those children are attending licensed care.

Clark’s daycare center Program Supervisor Paul Caggianese also voiced the great need for infant spaces so that student parents have the opportunity to continue their education.  

“Space limitation, is a limitation,” Caggianese said. “Unfortunately, the child care’s biggest barrier is the cost and our need for funding.”

Lowe herself had difficulty finding child care, which caused her a lot of stress.

“I wanted to go to school so I could start working in the career I’ve dreamed about for so long and make more money to support my family,” she said. “So putting school off was sad in a couple ways.”

Feeling frustrated with her situation and the lack of help that she was able to find, Lowe eventually found help through her mother. Even then, it was still difficult because her mother was working from home and watching Lowe’s son at the same time.

More problems are on the rise for Lowe with another little one on the way. She will not have anyone to watch her baby. It will be too much on her mother to watch both children while she is working.

“I have no idea what to do this time around, other than put off more time on school,” Lowe said.

Lowe knows she has a lot of responsibility.

Even so, she feels receiving help sooner than later can be beneficial for not only her, but for every student parent going through this as well, she said.

“Mothers shouldn’t feel bad for needing that help,” she said. “We’re all just trying to get ourselves somewhere in life, and to show our kids that anything is possible.”

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