Bankole: Detroit is now tagged as a ‘child care desert’

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Any discussion on Detroit’s future is undoubtedly incomplete without examining the amenities, experiences and challenges of the city’s youngest population — children as young as 5 or under — who deserve to be well cared for.

Children are crucial to repopulating a city like ours with a declining population, more so when families are usually drawn to cities that place top priority on the young population, creating the environment that promotes their safety, healthy growth and well-being.

But a new report released in late August by liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), has labeled Detroit a “child care desert,” which simply means that it is a city with very limited or no licensed care service for kids.

CAP estimates 59 percent of children under five reside in neighborhoods with a scarcity of childcare providers.

“The supply of licensed child care is pretty low in all parts of Detroit, with the exception being downtown and Midtown. Of course, those are areas where there are few families, so perhaps that’s not surprising,” said Rasheed Malik, one of the authors of the report. “Our estimate is that 29,040 children under five live in Detroit’s child care deserts.”

And which areas specifically are most affected by the lack of child care?

“Southwest and Mexicantown have a lot of kids and very few child care providers. This may be the area with the lowest supply relative to the child population. The areas north of Hamtramck (NorHam, Grixdale, Davison, Pershing) are also heavily populated with families but have nowhere near enough child care options,” Malik said. “Another trouble area is in the northeast part of Detroit (Denby, Burbank, Mount Olivet).”

The ramification of this report is far reaching hence it raises serious questions about the ability of children in the mentioned areas to perform well in school and escape the poverty net.

“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development, and when we don’t provide healthy and stimulating environments for young kids to learn they can have trouble when they enter public school,” Malik said. “Even when young children are playing, they are learning how to interact with learning environments. So even the little things have big impacts later in childhood and even adulthood. Things like literacy, language, and early math skills have their roots in the kind of active play learning environments that quality child care curricula prioritize.”

He added: “Without quality child care options, many families in child care deserts are forced to make less than ideal choices about child care so that they can go to work and provide for their families. It would not surprise me if the city and state’s underinvestment in child care has played a part in the challenges that many children face when they get into Detroit’s public schools.”

Asked if the CAP study looked at any significant steps Detroit has taken to address this issue, Malik said it remains to be seen.

“I’m not aware of any child care policy choices that the city of Detroit has made on child care. I know that they have some pre-kindergarten slots and they also sponsor some Head Start classrooms, which is great,” Malik said. “But the need far outstrips the supply. When it comes to child care, Michigan has been investing more under Gov. Snyder than in previous years, but not nearly enough from our point of view. The Great Start Readiness Program is a step in the right direction, but the overall public investment is just too low.”

And when it comes to child care assistance, he described the state as having “one of the stingiest in the nation. Child care assistance is only available to the poorest families, and it doesn’t cover much of the cost, only reimbursing providers $3.25 an hour for three-year-olds.”

One of the promises Mayor Mike Duggan made four years ago while running for mayor was increasing the city’s population. Four years later, that has not happened. It will be difficult to see through that promise if Detroit continues down the road of limited care for children being raised in the city.

Let’s face it. Why would any family want to move into the city if they cannot be guaranteed child care services in neighborhoods?

Families who reside in the areas highlighted in the CAP study need help now because the absence of childcare in their communities is directly tied to the educational success of their children.

It takes no rocket science to figure out that an environment greatly impacts a child’s future, and if many Detroit kids are barely graduating from high school, we need to look at the root causes and begin to address them. And the lack of adequate childcare would be among the culprits for the poor performance of some kids in school while their suburban counterparts would be expected to excel because childcare in their communities is never an issue.

This report should remind the drivers of the city’s comeback that the road to recovery is long; Detroit’s compounding issues did not just start overnight. Yet, every administration that comes and goes presents a laundry list of things it wants to accomplish.

This time around, the nurturing and safety of Detroit’s children should come first on that list.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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