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A new childcare program in Alabama is expanding childcare options for families

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now some fresh ideas for solving one of our country's most vexing problems, child care. Trouble finding care is why many people, women in particular, don't work. It's an issue for Alabama, which ranks near the bottom when it comes to women in the workforce. NPR's Andrea Hsu reports from Tuscaloosa on a new initiative that's chipping away at that.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Holly Glasgow has dedicated her career to doing child care right.

HOLLY GLASGOW: What are you building?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: For the butterflies.

GLASGOW: Oh, for the butterflies.

HSU: She's a child development educator at Shelton State Community College. She also directs a pre-K center on campus where 4-year-olds busy themselves with art and science and a make-believe flower mart.

GLASGOW: Happy, healthy, safe is our goal. Learning takes place whether they know it or not.

HSU: Case in point...

What's going to happen with those caterpillars?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: They're going to turn into a butterfly.

HSU: Glasgow would love it if every child in Alabama had what they offer here, but she knows that's not possible. Building a center like this can cost millions of dollars. She's convinced this kind of quality can be done at a much lower cost, and in a way that may better serve families. The answer?

GLASGOW: Family child care homes.

HSU: Child care in someone's home - now, this is not a new idea. In fact, lots of women look after other people's kids in their homes. But Glasgow envisions dramatically growing the number of family child care homes, populating neighborhoods with them. And she's got funding from the Women's Foundation of Alabama and the federal government to jumpstart that in Tuscaloosa.

GLASGOW: All right. Space-wise, show me what you're thinking.

HSU: Glasgow has brought me to the home of Lakethia Clark, who's been planning a living room makeover.

LAKETHIA CLARK: Here, I plan on having, like, carpets and different learning center areas.

HSU: Clark is one of the first participants in a new program, a boot camp of sorts. Over five intensive weeks, she completed trainings in child development, health and safety.

CLARK: They're making sure we're CPR certified, piece of cake pass.

HSU: Also got a crash course on how to run a small business - the goal? Well, there are two of them - opening up more child care slots so more Alabamians will go to work and, for caregivers, making child care a more attractive profession.

CLARK: It's going to help tremendously.

HSU: Like the other women in this program, Clark has actually worked in child care for years.

CLARK: I started off working in a church day care, First Baptist Church. But then I moved from there into the center base.

HSU: Growing up in a big family and with four kids of her own, she says caring for kids comes naturally.

CLARK: Just love to see them grow, learn and grow and go home to their parents and talk about what Miss Clark did with me today, what I learned with Miss Clark.

HSU: But she was not happy working at the center. Teacher turnover was high, and she had so many children to look after.

CLARK: Eighteen to 1 - 3- and 4-year-olds. It's a lot.

HSU: And this work does not pay well. She started out at $9 an hour, worked her way up to $13.50 an hour. For a while, she resorted to working a second job at Taco Casa. Last year, she finally quit child care and moved to a housekeeping job at a hospital.

CLARK: It kind of broke my heart. It broke my heart, and I miss my babies, and I can't wait to get this started.

HSU: Holly Glasgow can't wait either, given how many families need care.

GLASGOW: Tuscaloosa County - we have just over 12,000 children under the age of 5. If every spot was filled to capacity, we have just over 3,000 child care spots.

HSU: Also, some of the region's largest employers are in health care and manufacturing. They need workers round the clock, but...

GLASGOW: We have no centers in Tuscaloosa right now that are providing late evening care, weekend care or overnight care.

HSU: Family child care homes can be more flexible with their hours and provide a more homey environment, putting parents who work nights more at ease.

GLASGOW: If you're having overnight care, your kids still go to bed in a bedroom. They still have breakfast at the kitchen table.

HSU: Now, some of the women in this program had tried to start child care businesses on their own, but getting licensed is complicated. Startup costs are often a hurdle. That's where the funding is key. Glasgow has 5- to 10,000 dollars to spend on furniture and supplies for each new child care home.

GLASGOW: I might try to find some things for the porch...

CLARK: OK.

GLASGOW: ...If you can do cover.

HSU: After too many years of working for too little pay, Lakethia Clark is looking forward to becoming a small-business owner. For one thing, there are tax benefits, including deducting part of her mortgage. Also she'll get to be her own boss. She had dreamed of doing this years ago, and now, under Glasgow's tutelage, it's becoming reality.

CLARK: Thank you, Miss Holly. You have made sure we have done this.

GLASGOW: I got you.

CLARK: Everything...

GLASGOW: Yep. I got you.

CLARK: I'm so excited.

HSU: Lakethia Clark expects to welcome kids into her home this summer.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News, Tuscaloosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAS SONG, "I CAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.