The challenge of childcare for single parents and how to help



We all know our children are the next generation. Unless adults make conscious efforts, they parent kids the way they were parented. Being parented doesn’t necessarily mean your mother or father raised you. For generations, people such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends have raised children. We have even had children raised by people once unknown to the children, such as foster parents.

The Bible and history books are full of stories of children raised by someone other than their birth parents. For the most part, these people grew up, became parents, and did fine.

The differences in children being parented today are societal influences, such as

  • Computers
  • The Internet
  • YouTube videos and shows
  • Video games
  • TV shows inappropriate for young children

In addition to these outside influences, children are often exposed to significant others and cohabiting partners. In essence, one of the birth parents is saying, “I can’t commit to marriage, but I will commit to letting you influence my child for several years.”

While societal influences and cohabiting adults are major factors in children’s lives, there is another category of people who have even bigger impacts.

Who is influencing our children?

Children from single-parent families spend the majority of their waking hours in group care. They have parents either attending school full time or working—some parents are working two or more jobs or going to school and working. One small study showed school-age children very well might be in childcare 300–400 more hours per year than public school. When one considers summers, school vacations, holidays, early-release days, and parent–teacher conference days, children spend many more hours in childcare facilities.

Who is rearing the next generation of parents? Who, or what, are these children going to mimic when they become adults and parents? In case you haven’t quite grasped the picture presented, let me explain it to you. Underpaid, untrained, and inconsistent caregivers are raising these children from single-parent homes. For many children, no other entity in their lives holds more influence over them than the childcare giver.

The child is dropped off early in the morning, many times before 6 a.m. The following is an example of the child’s daily routine.

“Hang up your coat. Sit down. Be quiet. Get in line. Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Eat your breakfast. Sit on the rug for circle time. Go outside. Come inside. Hang up your coat. It’s time for your mom (or dad) to come. Clean up. Get your artwork. Get your coat. See you in the morning.”

Then, when the single parent takes the child home after nine to ten hours in care outside the home and outside the parent’s influence, more times than not, the child plops in front of the TV or goes online. These mediums portray immediate gratification in all situations of life—Feel bad? Take a pill. Want to celebrate? Grab a beer. Don’t like your marriage partner? Get a divorce—and this is all done within a thirty-minute timespan.

Television and movies sear young minds with graphic visions of violence and sexual escapades. Time and time, hour after hour, television pours in inappropriate scenarios over and over again. The child goes through the entire day without parental influence. The only conversation between parent and child usually is commands or directions, and many children are shuttled back and forth between two homes and two parents.

What’s the problem with childcare?

Churches, pastors, and children’s workers need to realize the importance of childcare for these children. Childcare is a fact of life for the single parent. Children from single-parent homes need high-quality childcare programs, but statistically, they receive low-quality childcare programs. Realistically, many single parents struggle to afford any daycare, let alone pay for a more expensive, quality program.

Many states that provide child care assistance, such as Title XX, do not pay high reimbursement rates. Thus, children on childcare subsidies do not have quality childcare available. Some childcare centers only allocate a certain percentage of subsidized child care slots because the reimbursement rates are many times lower than what the facility charges.

When I owned a childcare facility, all of my subsidized clientele were single parents, but not all of my single parents were on state assistance. Some single parents made a few dollars over the limit and therefore did not qualify for assistance.

What can churches do?

Many times, the role of a single parent is quite unexpectedly thrust upon parents. They don’t have time to learn about single parenting; they just react. They don’t have time to research the best childcare or even what childcare is all about. Here is where churches can fill in the gap for single parents.

  1. Develop a checklist to educate parents on what to look for in childcare facilities.
  2. Send someone with parents when they go to look for childcare facilities for their children.
  3. Create a list of “helpers”—people who can assist when the single parent has to work overtime, and childcare closes before the parent can pick up the child. Helpers can pick up a child from care and take the child to the parent or their home for the evening as needed. Helpers can also fill in the gap when a child gets ill and needs to be picked up from childcare.
  4. Subsidize childcare tuition, but don’t enable single parents. Provide ways for them to work off the extra financial help.
  5. Provide respite care for the out-of-control child. Research shows that one reason welfare–to–work reform did not work initially was that children from single-parent families tended to have out-of-control behavior problems and get kicked out of childcare and school. Single parents lost their jobs when they continually had to leave work to pick up their children.
  6. Provide counselors and parenting classes for single parents.
  7. If your church has a counselor on staff, have the counselor donate a couple hours a week to a local childcare.

What does your church do to assist single parents with the childcare dilemma?


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 2, 2015.

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