Childcare needed: A campus-wide problem

I’ve been thinking lately about the needs of students that have children. Returning to school after one becomes a parent presents a whole new level of frustrations, worries, expenses and anxieties. Student life (even just the classes, homework, projects and time spent on research) is difficult enough. Add caring for children to the mix, and it becomes exponentially more difficult. It’s long past time for PSU to address these needs that many of its students face.

One vast area of concern for parents is the need for childcare when one is at school. In many ways, finding childcare when one is a student is more difficult than when one simply works a full-time job. School schedules are notoriously unpredictable: group projects, library research, writing groups, student-professor meetings, club functions. They all add up to a schedule that is hard
to work around.

This school offers a few choices when it comes to finding childcare. PSU itself runs three childcare centers. Little Vikings Flexible Childcare Center, located in Stephen Epler Hall, is one choice. It provides drop-in childcare, but it limits each child to 4 hours per day of care and 12 hours per week. Also, according to their website, “Only our staff members are permitted in the play area; parent/ guardians are not permitted to stay with their children in the play area. If parent/guardian would like to stay and watch their infants/children play at Little Vikings, they may stay in the reception area.”

I have a hard time believing they are serious, and if they are, they deserve nothing more than scorn and ridicule. As a parent I would never leave my children someplace that won’t allow me to interact with them.

Little Vikings also requires that parents provide meals for their children. For those who aren’t aware, the USDA provides funds to reimburse daycare providers for meal and snack expenses. In other words, meals are free to the provider, require no extra paperwork than what is already required by the state to run a certified childcare center (which Little Vikings is), and parents do not need the worry or expense of planning meals for their children who are at daycare.

Little Vikings, for whatever reason, doesn’t utilize the USDA food program, and students are all the worse for it. However, all this is overshadowed by the simple fact that students have unpredictable schedules, and despite advertising itself as drop-in childcare, Little Vikings does not meet that need. They close at 7:30 p.m. Monday–Thursday and at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, which also puts strain on parents taking night classes.

The Helen Gordon Child Development Center is another option. Run by the PSU Graduate School of Education, the HGCDC provides a preschool atmosphere for the children of students and faculty. However, the center has its own drawbacks. One is cost: $980 per month for a full-time spot for an infant or toddler (the price decreases with age; the older the kid, the cheaper the care). This puts a considerable strain on student finances, which are often strained to the limit to begin with. There is financial help for childcare expenses, most notably the Jim Sells Child Care Assistance Program (there are others also), but these sometimes don’t go far enough.

The website for the HGCDC does not list its policies regarding meals, parental visits, or drop-in care, and at the time of this writing an email to their office requesting clarification has gone unanswered. Another downside of the HGCDC is that the center does not accept children over 6 years old—a significant hindrance for parents of school-age children.

The PSU website also mentions the Associated Students of PSU Children’s Center, located in Smith Memorial Student Union, but they have no website, and while it appears they have a state license, one must visit their offices to glean more information.

It seems clear that it is time for PSU to invest in a much-needed childcare program. A sizable portion of the PSU student body has children (the current estimate is 1 in 5 students have children), and providing a large, drop-in childcare center with reasonable rates (and reasonable policies regarding meals and visitation) should be high on any list of future campus improvements. Little Vikings is a joke, and the HGCDC, while by all accounts is a much better place, is not adequate to serve the needs that parents at PSU have.

I would strongly encourage the powers that be to consider a large-scale expansion of their childcare offerings so that in addition to the three existing centers, parents could have a wide range of options that meet the needs of all students with children.