The lack of affordable, quality child care isn’t only a challenge for parents. It’s a threat to our economic future. A recent poll showed 34% of U.S. families with young children are facing serious problems finding options when adults need to work. In Arkansas alone, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found more than one third of respondents stepped back, didn’t take, or greatly changed jobs due to problems with child care.

Cemeka Agugbuem Smith of Little Rock and her husband, Frederick, are all too familiar with this issue. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they struggled to secure child care arrangements for their two-, four-, and six-year-old sons. Now, she’s now balancing a part-time remote position and full-time homeschooling responsibilities. In the Q&A below, she’s sharing more about her family’s experience—and the ramifications it has on others facing similar situations.

What are your family’s child care challenges?

When we had our first son in Arkadelphia, we wanted to find a quality, affordable and nurturing program for him. We toured three available facilities but were only comfortable with one. Unfortunately, we were still on the waiting list when it came time for me to start my job. So, a good friend who was a retired daycare owner stepped in to help. After our second son was born, our babysitter experienced a severe back injury. Once again we were without care. My husband finished graduate school, so we moved to Little Rock for new opportunities. It took nearly two years, but we eventually found a Montessori program. Our two oldest were there for about a year before COVID-19 hit.

How has this challenge affected your family?

It’s hard. I never intended or desired to be a stay-at-home mom. We did everything we were “supposed” to do. We obtained higher education, secured good-paying jobs, and started a family. Yet, every decision left us torn between what was best for our kids and our careers. We found a solution, but it’s not free from frustrations and sacrifices.

What programs or services help your family navigate these issues?

Our parents are our most incredible support. Our church family and friends also help us in raising well-rounded, well-loved kids. Our boys have participated in Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters Program (HIPPY) and Parents as Teachers (PAT). These programs have helped me feel more comfortable homeschooling my kids.

Why do you want to share your story with others?

The details of our story may be different from other families, but the challenges are the same. Current policies and systems simply do not support families adequately. Working parents need access to quality and affordable childcare as well as reasonable maternity and paternity leave; work-family balance; and emotional and communal support. 

The Smiths aren’t alone in their struggle. Each year, Arkansas employers lose an estimated $865 million annually due to employee absences and turnover. Is insufficient child care causing your family to miss work or educational opportunities? Share your story on our Facebook page.