There is a childcare center in Washington, D.C., where parents have to provide basic resources like soap, tissues and crayons. Children there take a daily walk along busy city streets because there is no play area and no better way for them to get fresh air.

This center certainly needs many more resources to serve its children better, but they and their families are still among the lucky ones. They have at least been able to find affordable care. This is a dilemma too many families in our country face – and not all of them have their search end successfully.

For one San Francisco family, the best solution involves a two-hour commute for seven-year-old Jamie and his five-year-old sister Sunny. Jamie has been on a waiting list for care closer to home for three years, with no results. The children’s school has an after-school program, but it can only serve 24 children – in a school of 500.

And so the children ride a bus for one hour after school every day to their child care provider’s home. When their mother leaves work, she has to ride another bus for an hour to pick them up – and then all three take one more hour-long ride to get back home.

Combining childcare and work has always been a juggling act for Lydia and Sung Lee, the parents of two little girls. When their first daughter, Mimi, was born, Lydia was a graduate student. They realized that paying for child care would cost more than Sung earned working at a butcher shop ten hours a day, six days a week, so he quit his job and watched Mimi and another child full-time instead. The family lived in a two-room apartment with borrowed furniture, eating rice, vegetables and government milk and cheese.

When their second daughter, Grace, was six months old, Lydia returned to work as a teacher, but the family was still limited by the cost and difficulty of finding care for infants and the fact that they did not own a car. Their best solution was to send Mimi to a center and bring Grace to a child-care provider’s home via a two-mile bicycle trip.

When Lydia felt that the provider wasn’t interacting with Grace enough, she ended up bringing Grace to her own office part-time so Lydia could be sure she was getting loving attention for at least half of the day. Lydia would teach in the morning and hold Grace in her lap as she met with students in the afternoon.

The family’s struggles continued through a series of different arrangements until the girls were both old enough to go to school. Now Lydia works two jobs and Sung works from home and cares for the girls in the afternoons.

And for another mother, the struggle to find adequate child care was so long and difficult she finally had to give up and ask her parents to take her two children to stay with them in the Philippines while she tried to get back on her feet. Her four-year-old son was aware enough to understand that his mother was not coming with him when she kissed him goodbye at the airport. His sobs broke her heart. On the other hand, she worried if her infant daughter would even recognize or remember her when she was finally able to unite with her children again.

These families’ stories are not unique. These are just a few examples of the struggles and compromises millions of families across the country face every day as they try to combine paid work and quality child care for their children. It’s time to make families’ choices easier rather than harder and find real solutions that would allow parents to go to work feeling confident their children are in safe, nurturing environments where they will learn and be well loved.

This year the Children’s Defense Fund’s top priority in the “Act to Leave No Child Behind” is to double the number of eligible children able to receive federal child care assistance. No parent should have to choose between working to support their child and their child’s safe and stable care.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information visit www.childrensdefense.org

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