News & Opinion » News

Tim Hortons tragedy underscores child care needs


Little is known yet about what led to the tragic death of a 3-year-old child in a grease pit behind a Tim Hortons last week. Rochester police say the child's mother had taken him to work at Tim Hortons that day because she didn't have other care available. And while the child's death has focused attention on the lack of regulations for outdoor grease traps, it has also generated discussion about a continuing problem in the Rochester area: the lack of quality, affordable child care.

The Children's Agenda, an advocacy organization, estimates that the Rochester-Finger Lakes region has a shortage of 32,000 child care slots. And the need is especially critical for low-income families. "Only 20 percent of children under 6 from low-income families received subsidized care in Monroe County in 2018," says Pete Nabozny, the Agenda's director of policy.

"Child care for young children in particular is extraordinarily expensive," Nabozny says. "The market rate for infant care in Monroe County in a child care center is $14,560. For a 3-year-old in a child care center, it's $12,740."

When parents need to work but they can't afford to pay for child care, Nabozny says, "they're going to make other arrangements."

Since 2002, the number of Monroe County children receiving child-care subsidies has declined even as the number of children in poverty has increased, according to Children's Agenda research. "There are fewer families receiving child care assistance from Monroe County now than at any time in the past," Nabozny says.

And, Nabozny says, "the amount of licensed care in Monroe County has also declined considerably over the last five years."

But, Nabozny adds, it's important to point out that some child care assistance is available currently, and the county is accepting applications for it. Parents can apply by calling the county's human services department at (585) 753-6960.

Also available is a unique service operated by the Center for Youth: two free crisis nurseries that provide temporary child care for families facing emergencies such as unexpected medical problems or domestic violence. One is in the city's Beechwood area, the other on Genesee Park Boulevard.

The centers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are staffed by certified child-care workers who, in turn, are aided by volunteers – retired nurses, teachers, grandmothers, and college students. Each center can take care of six children at a time, says City Councilmember Elaine Spaull, the Center's executive director. The stays are short, often for just a few hours to help a family through a medical emergency. Spaull estimates that over a year, each center will help as many as 250 different families.

In addition to providing emergency child care, crisis nursery staff are able to help parents get medical care, housing, and other assistance.

"If I had all the money in the world," Spaull says, "I would add two more" crisis nurseries, one in each of the other two quadrants of the city.

The Children's Agenda and other child-welfare organizations have pushed for years for better funding for child care. And Spaull says she hopes the tragedy will spur a wide community conversation about the needs of families and children.

"We have to keep talking" about the needs of families, Spaull says: child care, adequate wages and benefits, pay equity, transportation, health care. "The whole community has to come together on this issue."

In an interview with WXXI's Beth Adams, City Council member Elaine Spaull, who is executive director of the Center for Youth and Faith Davignon, the center's assistant director of counseling and runaway youth services, also focused on the need for child care: