Katherine Shafer’s sons hurtled into the Clark College child care facility on a recent Wednesday morning, eager to show their toys to the staff at the campus-within-a-campus.
Shafer, 31, walked in behind 5-year-old Elijah and 3-year-old Aiden, a tired smile on her face.
Wednesdays aren’t so bad for Shafer. Usually they’re filled with appointments, school work and classes in the evening. Of course, “not so bad” is relative when you’re a single mother of three young boys — 7-year-old Jeremiah is in grade school — pursuing a college degree.
It’s parents like Shafer that Clark College is targeting with a $487,200 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The four-year Child Care Access Means Parents in School grant, or CCAMPIS, will cover the costs of child care for low-income college students. College officials estimate the grant could save enrolled families between $15 and $1,300 a month, depending on how much they’re currently paying.
“It’s food. It’s new shoes. It’s clothes,” said Shafer of the money she’ll save due to the grant. She’s among the approximately 50 people to receive the funding.
Child care in Washington and across the country is expensive and hard to find. According to Child Care Aware of Washington, the median cost of child care at center-based programs ranges from $888 to $1,235, depending on the child’s age. At family-based centers, that range drops to $650 to $758, but there are fewer licensed home care providers.
According to local nonprofit Support for Early Learning and Families, there are 28,084 children under the age of 5 in Clark County, but only 7,994 child care slots at licensed child care centers and home-based programs.
Shafer first arrived in Clark County four years ago after leaving her ex in Arizona. She didn’t have her high school diploma, a home or any idea where to turn.
“Brand new city, no money, no nothing,” she said.
Then the support services began to roll in for Shafer, who doggedly sought help at service providers like the YWCA, Partners in Careers and the Department of Social and Health Services. She found a place to live, earned her GED and pieced together a patchwork of support she said allows her and her three boys to manage while she attends school.
The right fit
But finding child care was a nightmare. Her eldest, Jeremiah, went through a rotating door of centers that were never the right fit. It wasn’t until after Shafer enrolled in Clark College that the boys began attending the child care center on campus.
Shafer was in love. The program is operated by the college’s child and family studies department, offering students pursuing their associate degrees in early childhood education a chance to work in the classroom. Shafer, who is pursuing an associate degree in addiction counseling, also works at the center for several hours a week as a teaching assistant. There were meet-up groups for single parents, allowing Shafer to make friends and build connections. Her son, who had behavioral problems in other programs, began to thrive for the first time.
“The teachers, you can tell they love what they do,” Shafer said.
Michele Volk, director of services for children and families at the college, said Shafer epitomizes the types of parents the program is trying to serve. About a quarter of Clark College students have dependent children, and 43 percent are low-income.
The college also points to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that suggests that only 33 percent of students with children complete a degree or certificate within six years. For single mothers, that completion rate drops to 28 percent. But families who enroll their children in on-campus child care services are three times more likely to graduate on time as those who don’t.
“This is what our families are like,” Volk said. “If we can help them out in any way we can, that’s what we’re for.”
And for Shafer, whose heart is set on someday serving the community she said saved her family, finding a fit at Clark’s child care center represented more than finding a day care; it represented finding a home.
“I feel like this is my family,” Shafer said.