Mother and father searching for childcare wrestle with entry and prices


As Megan Garman’s due date approached, she began calling several daycare centers in the Johnstown area to have her daughter enrolled, but had to sign up for one waiting list after another.

“It’s very, very stressful,” she said.

Garman started her search more than a year ago and is still waiting for a vacancy. Fortunately, she said, a family member could fill in, but the working mother knows this is not a permanent solution.

Every few months she calls the centers again to see if her family is on the waiting list and hopes for the best.

“It’s like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Garman.

The story of the resident of Johnstown is not uncommon in Pennsylvania, which suffers from a lack of access and affordability to childcare and early childhood education.

There are more than 500,000 children under the age of 5 in Pennsylvania and approximately 300,000 infants and toddlers in need of childcare, according to advocacy group Start Strong PA. About half in both categories are eligible for Child Care Works – a government-subsidized program that provides low-income families with access to reliable, high-quality programs.

More than 80% of children under the age of 5 are underserved, the group said. Infants and young children face a similar situation, with around 85% underserved.

Additionally, Pre-K for PA, another advocacy group, reports that 60% of the 170,000 eligible children in Pennsylvania do not have access to quality pre-kindergarten programs.

“There is a waiting list”

Garman said the stressful situation led her to quit her job at Greater Johnstown Elementary School to take care of her daughter, which made her feel “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” The reason for the waiting lists is the lack of employees, informed the facilities in the area.

Lisa Zayac, another Johnstown mother, is in a similar situation. Her 6-year-old Jamison Gibson is enrolled in a downtown Learning Lamp facility and Zayac is expecting her second child in September.

However, just one child in a program does not guarantee a place for their second child.

Zayac works for the DaVita kidney center and would like to continue working after the birth. She wants her baby “nowhere else but in the study lamp”.

“I have great faith in her,” she says. “You were great with my son.”

Zayac spoke lovingly about the provider, saying the early childhood education agency had prepared her son well for kindergarten. She regards the employees there as a family and continues to rely on the organization for afternoon care. This quality of service is why she wants her newborn to be in the same facility, she said.

At the moment Zayac has not found another option, but is on three waiting lists to be on the safe side.

“Everywhere I’ve called there’s a waiting list for everyone,” she said.

The situation is stressful for Zayac. If she cannot find additional childcare, her family will get into trouble.

‘Know what to do’

One possible solution that could benefit some Johnstown parents and others across the state is to allocate more funding to childcare and early childhood education programs like Pre-K Counts and Head Start.

According to a recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research, Pennsylvania spent around $ 334 million on pre-kindergarten in 2020, more than $ 30 million more than the previous year. But additional funding would go a long way towards providing access to high-quality programs, the study shows.

The National Institute for Early Education recommends a state and federal initiative to achieve this goal. In Pennsylvania, that would mean spending about $ 250 million more annually on Pre-k and another $ 57 million on the Head Start program.

Gerald Zahorchak, former Secretary of State for Education and current Chairman of the Education Department at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, calls for a boost in funding.

“The key is how many, many things,” he said. “We know what to do. We just don’t have the will as a government to do what we know will work and ultimately lead to much more productivity for our nation, our state, this region, this county, our local areas. “

‘Absolutely necessary’

The 2015 study “Early Childhood Education” by Sneha Elango, Jorge Luis Garcia and James J. Heckman, all from the University of Chicago, showed that early learning not only brings short-term benefits, but also “later in life success, encouragement of Results such as education, employment, health and less criminal activity. “

“Early childhood education is absolutely essential for our country,” said Zahorchak.

According to a data sheet from Heckman’s website, children who have had access to early childhood education programs have sustained IQ gains and increases in their socio-emotional skills.

“We have to develop, support and pay for the early childhood care and education centers much better,” said Zahorchak.

It has been shown that high-quality care also benefits working mothers who want to develop their skills and enter the labor market.

“It gives children from lower income families the same chance as children from happier families,” said Somerset mother Deana Platt.

Her three children have been enrolled on the various offerings of Somerset County’s Tableland Services Inc. and their youngest is currently attending Head Start.

“You have been very helpful,” she said. “I’m not sure how I would have paid that out of my own pocket back then.”

Platt’s expenses were $ 48 a month due to government subsidies. She said that without the help she could not afford the care and would be in a bind.

“A good foundation”

According to the 2018 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report published by United Way of the Laurel Highlands for Somerset County, childcare for a family with two children in one program could be more than $ 1,100 each Monthly costs, based on figures from the Labor Statistics Office.

“I am really grateful to Tableland and all of their services,” said Platt. “Between the residential, work and children’s programs on offer, they have a positive impact on the life of our family.”

Anne Garrison, Tableland’s director of early childhood education, described such programs as having a lifelong benefit.

“That gives the country a good foundation,” she said.

Garrison said that the programs offered by Tableland Services are free for families who qualify – based on income guidelines and funded through grants – and many are affiliated with area school districts. However, that does not mean that every eligible family uses the offers. Garrison noted that wealthier families tend not to send their children to Head Start and other similar programs.

That doesn’t change the fact that these people need contact with other “youth” and how to be part of a group, she added.

“You are not alone”

For those who have chosen an alternate path, there are in-home programs such as Foster Family Planning, Tablelands Family Center, and Beginnings Inc’s Parents as Teachers initiative.

Parents, often referred to as a child’s first teacher, are provided with skills to aid their children’s learning.

“It helps them understand that they are not alone,” said Paula Eppley-Newman, executive director of Beginnings.

Parents as Teachers has been implemented in the region for more than a decade, cares for children from birth to the age of 5, and is fully funded so parents don’t have to pay. Eppley-Newman said the program has a curriculum but is specific to the individual.

“We’re only there to support the family,” she said.

Eppley-Newman said Beginnings teaches about 100 families with parents each month.

Pennsylvania offers a free service to help you find quality childcare and early intervention programs called COMPASS. More information is available at, and



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