This story is first in a series, published in The Reader and on omahajobs.com, that spotlights the experiences of low-income, working families in Omaha.
Flor Campos’ daycare was open 24 hours a day.
“Why [wouldn’t I] help families that wake up at four in the morning [for work] and don’t have anywhere to take the kids?” Campos said.
Campos, herself a single mom of five kids, left her job as an assistant preschool teacher to found an in-home daycare that offered flexible hours and subsidized rates. She knew her services were needed by low-income parents, including many refugees employed in meatpacking plants, who worked long before and after their kids went to school.
In the wee hours of the morning, kids ages three months to 12 years slept on mats in Campos’ home. In the afternoon, they got homework help and did educational activities. On weekends, they visited the zoo and Omaha Children’s Museum.
“I moved my own kids to the basement. They weren’t happy about it,” said Campos, who converted the first floor of her home into Flor’s Daycare. “But they knew it was [what] mommy wanted to do.”
Campos recognizes that her work was invaluable, in part because the state subsidized the cost of her daycare for families who needed assistance. Child care is expensive; in Nebraska, the average annual cost is $11,420 for a 4-year-old and $12,571 for an infant. That’s 35 weeks of full pay for a minimum-wage worker with one infant.
Campos’ work was also essential because if parents don’t have a place to drop off their kids, they can’t make ends meet.
Helping Nebraskans access well-paid jobs is among the primary goals of Blueprint Nebraska: a plan to guide the state toward economic prosperity by 2030, including by establishing 25,000 jobs. But parents can’t work unless their kids have a safe place to grow and learn.
According to its summary report from 2019, Blueprint Nebraska aims to “revolutionize all educational segments from early childhood to career,” including child care. Campos appreciates the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ resources, which include subsidizing the cost of child care centers like hers.
But not all daycares are created equal.
“If a kid is [angsty], it’s because you’re not giving [them] attention,” said Campos, who believes some daycares don’t offer the stimulation kids need to thrive. “[Kids] … cannot watch TV all day.”
Campos, who’s worked with Sudanese, Somali, Korean and Hispanic children, also wishes providers understood the kids’ cultures, especially since Nebraska is home to many refugees. Plus, she said, many daycares don’t offer flexible hours, leaving parents in the lurch when they work nights or early mornings.
And, according to Campos, some families don’t know resources such as free or subsidized child care exist, or struggle to navigate them. But parents must work, so they resort to leaving children as young as five home alone, she said.
Even parents who find quality subsidized child care battle guilt and fatigue as they work long hours while another adult nurtures their babies.
Campos knows the feeling all too well.
“I always tried to be with [my kids],” she said, “but now that they’re teenagers, they say, ‘Mommy, we had so much time in the child care.’ I feel guilty.”
Like the parents of the kids she took care of while her own children were in someone else’s care, Campos found that making ends meet often necessitates long hours without your little ones.
“It’s in my blood, working with kids,” said Campos, who’s now working at the construction company she opened but ultimately hopes to run a daycare once again. “[And] being a single mom with five kids, I did what I had to [for] work.”
From Nov. 2020 – Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska’s LGBTQ+ community. Although she’s now pursuing a PhD in Communication, Information and Media at Rutgers University, Leah remains a diehard Reader fan and wholeheartedly supports all things Reader. You can connect with her via Twitter (@cates_leah).