Rhode Island is the 6th friendliest state for working mothers, according to a new study published by financial analysis and research company WalletHub.
The study looked at all 50 states and Washington D.C. and made ranking based on three dimensions (child care quality; professional opportunities; and work/life balance) comprised of 15 total metrics, such as child care costs, ratio of female executives and the average length of work commutes.
The Ocean State scored higher than any other state for work/life balance, aided by being one of only four states in the country (along with New York, New Jersey and California) to guarantee some paid leave time for parents following the birth of a child through its temporary caregiver insurance (TCI) program, which was signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee in 2013, along with lower than average commute times for working women.
Ahead of Rhode Island was Vermont (first overall) followed by Minnesota, Massachusetts, D.C. and Connecticut. Idaho received the lowest score, followed by Louisiana, Alabama, Nevada and South Carolina.
The premise of the study is that working mothers have a better quality of life in states where they are able to work for better wages, spend more time with their families and, when they are forced to be away from their children, are able to enjoy peace of mind that their kids are still being cared for, either through high quality daycare or after school programming.
“If your child isn’t happy and engaged after school, you're going to be constantly disrupted at work. Work production slows down, your attention to detail, all of that,” said Lara D’Antuono, executive director of the Warwick Boys & Girls Club. “If your child is not happy, as a mom, you are not happy.”
While Rhode Island was given a healthy bump in the rankings due to the presence of the state’s TCI program, which guarantees new mothers and fathers have at least four weeks of paid leave following the birth of a child, it was held back from a higher ranking due to childcare costs being the third highest in the country (only Massachusetts and D.C. parents pay more).
“People are paying more for childcare and school-age care than you're paying for college,” said Lisa Hildebrand, executive director for the Warwick-based Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children. “It's about $15,000 on average for one kid per year for child care and school-age care is very expensive as well.”
Hildebrand, a working mother herself, said that these costs get even more burdensome during the summer, when children require even more supervised time due to schools being out of session. She said that for her child, one week of summer camp costs $600.
Adding to the problem, Hildebrand said, is that although the state offers some subsidies for lower-income families to be able to afford some of these after school programs, the programs are given paltry reimbursements by the state, the lowest in New England, which means that the added costs to service low-income families are necessarily passed onto middle class families through higher fees for their kids.
“I have a white-collar job that allows me to put my kids in after school programming,” said Corinne McKamey, associate professor of cultures, communities and education and co-director of the Youth Development program at Rhode Island College (and a mother of two). “When they were infants, most of my paycheck was going to daycare…If you don't have a job that allows you to pay for that, it's hard.”
McKamey said she worries about the current political climate regarding after school care in the country, as President Donald Trump and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have flirted with wide-scale reduction in funding to after school programs.
Rhode Island has already seen an impact, as federal funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which are after school programs specially designed to benefit families in low-income areas, has been reduced from almost $6 million in FY18 to zero in FY19. McKamey said this is a troubling trend, and that the approach taken by other countries should be the approach taken here.
“Look at Canada, Finland, some of these other countries where daycare is part of the country's value system. [They say] ‘Let’s take care of the children, they're our future.’ I don’t feel that America has that value system right now,” she said. “But it could.”
Timely enough, the Rhode Island senate just passed a bill on May 5 that seeks to create a 17-member commission to discuss how to increase the amount and quality of out-of-school and learning programs in the state. That bill is now in the House of Representatives.
Improving quality, for Hildebrand, is priority number one, because although she said Rhode Island has nearly 1,000 childcare and after school programs between dedicated daycares, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and independent programs, the quality can always be improved.
“I can tell you the quality of programs across the board overall is lower than what you would necessarily expect, and we're trying to improve that,” she said. “We work across the state, but it's a national problem. In Rhode Island most of our programs fall in the low-to-mid range for quality child care.”
Hildebrand’s organization is the entity that ranks childcare centers in Rhode Island based on a system from one to five, known as Bright Stars. She said that there is only one program in all of Rhode Island that has achieved a five-star rank, A Family Tree school-age program, located in Warwick. The Warwick Boys & Girls Club was recently given a four-star rating, indicating a high-quality program.
“I always tell my staff, all these parents trust us with their most valuable asset, and that's their kids,” said D’Antuono. “As a working mom, I appreciate that. And I take that in consideration when I create my environment here.”
Information gathered by the New York-based nonprofit Afterschool Alliance indicates that there are 34,704 children enrolled in after school programs in Rhode Island, however there are 37,471 kids waiting for an available, suitable program. Over 27,000 children are left alone or unsupervised after school, according to their report.
Hildebrand said that, even if the quality of the center isn’t ideal, having children enrolled in after school programming is better than not having them enrolled at all. McKamey agreed strongly with this sentiment.
“The alternative is they go home and watch TV or sit alone in the afternoon,” she said. “My kids have been in after school programs since pre-K, and I think they learn more in those programs than they do in school sometimes…partly because the after school program focuses on the whole child.”
McKamey said that after school programs reach beyond the scope achievable by traditional schooling alone, as schools have to concern themselves with preparing students for standardized testing and cannot afford the time to foster areas such as relationship building and social-emotional development.
“I think a lot of people think after school programs are just babysitting,” she said. “It's not babysitting. There's a rigor to the work, there's nuances to the work and it's important work.”