After school care for those who need it 


Affordable childcare in Columbia lacks quantity

By Allie Pecorin, Lily Cusack, Yang Sun and Abby Ivory-Ganja

The bell rings. Students throw on their jackets, zip up their backpacks and file out the door. Many students will head toward a line of busses waiting for them. But there’s a marked difference between which bus students are climbing aboard after 3 p.m.

One bus is headed to Adventure Club, and the other is going off to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia. The former bus is filled with students whose families are paying upwards of $200 per child per month for after-school care. The latter group of students’ families are paying $20 per semester.

Valorie Livingston, executive director at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia said the two different busses are a visible representation of the tangible socioeconomic divide that exists in the Columbia community.

“We have a very thriving community,” Livingston said. “But it's almost as if we have two Columbias. We have a very sophisticated, educated, and fiscally wealthy community. And we have a very poor community. And the poor community continues to grow.”

The divide Livingston discussed can be seen in the cost of child care. In Boone County it an average of $21.56 a day to place a child in after-school care. This means that for low-income families, many child care options are out of reach.

Teresa Derrick-Mills, a researcher for the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., said that a lack of affordable child care is a national problem.

Missouri ranks 20th among all states on the care index compiled by New America, a Washington D.C. think tank. The index considers the cost, quality and availability of child care across the United States.

According to Derrick-Mills, families nationwide must often work multiple jobs or rely on care from neighbors or other family members to find care.

“Child care is actually really expensive to provide,” Derrick-Mills said. “There are programs around the country, but typically there are waiting lists for all of those programs.”

Boone County has, on average, the most expensive child care in mid-Missouri according to data collected by the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Kaila Jefferson-Betts serves as a case manager for children with developmental disabilities at Boone County Human Resources, working with families all across the county. She said that while moving out of Columbia could potentially reduce childcare costs, it can also limit options.

“The cost of living in Columbia is extremely high, and the cost of living is just cheaper in some of the other surrounding areas,” Jefferson-Betts said. “However, then you have very limited resources for child care, and you have very limited after-school care. You have very limited support.”

Jefferson-Betts said even young children can see the divide between the wealthy students and the low-income ones.  

But when Rolando Barry was growing up, he said he rarely felt different than his wealthier peers. Even though Barry grew up in a low-income single-parent household, he always had a high sense of self worth. 

“I didn’t have a lot of the stuff that other kids got,” Barry said. “But I didn’t want those things because I had the drill team and I had the [Boys and Girls] club. I had fun.”

Barry now works to provide the same sense of self worth that he had as a child to dozens of children from low-income families. For over 30 years, he has run a drill team that teaches students high energy dance exercises with precise choreography.

He used to run the program out of the back of his car. Now, his program has become a part of the Boys and Girls Club.

When the high steppers practice the space at the Boys and Girls Club is transformed. Music played by a student drum line fills the space. Laughter can be heard over it. Barry said the students leave exhausted and sweaty. 

Many of his students are second and third generation mid-Missouri steppers. He attributes student success to the community he’s created.

Derrick-Mills also believes the community is essential in helping families who lack affordable options.  

“It isn’t just the parent’s problem,” Mills said. “If the children go to kindergarten behind then it becomes the school’s problem. So how can they work on preventing that? If employers can’t access all the employees that they need or their employees can’t come on a regular basis because they don’t have child care it’s something that they should be owning too.”

For now, the community struggles to fill the void while programs do their best to accommodate as many students as they can.