New UA Little Rock Program Provides Child Care Funding for Low-Income Students

A virtual meeting for interested child care providers is scheduled for Mar. 7.

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Trinity Caver is a University of Arkansas at Little Rock junior balancing school, work and being a single mom. Because of the high cost, Caver can’t afford child care for her daughter who turned six months old on Wednesday.

“Child care is basically as much as my rent,” she says. “It’s just so expensive and I just knew I couldn’t possibly afford it.”

Caver’s mom lives in El Dorado and helps care for her newborn, but being two hours away from her child is not ideal. To access care closer to home, Caver is applying to the new Child Care Connections program at UA Little Rock. If approved, the university will provide funding for her daughter to attend a child care facility in central Arkansas.

“I’m so grateful that the school is offering this program because for people like me that are living paycheck to paycheck, we can also have assistance with our children,” Caver says.

Funding for the Child Care Connections program is provided by a four-year Child Care Access Means Parents in School grant from the U.S. Department of Education worth $581,128. Pell Grant recipients are eligible to apply for the funding. About 39 percent of undergraduate students at UA Little Rock are Pell Grant recipients, according to university officials. Grant recipients typically come from households with a family income less than $50,000 annually, but most Pell Grant money goes to students with a family income below $20,000.

Child Care Connections director Shanna Parker is excited to provide this new service because she says there’s such a need for it. Based on the 2021 FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — data and the current student population, there were a total of 1,292 low-income students identified as having children or legal dependents and 45 percent of them were single. Priority for the funding will be given to single parents. 

“I know it’s a need,” Parker says. “It’s a great program and I want to be able to partner with as many community stakeholders as possible so that we can do what we can.”

Eligible undergraduate students can apply online and if they’re approved, they can select a child care provider who is licensed, in compliance with state regulations, maintains their liability insurance and signs a Memorandum of Agreement. To maintain eligibility, students must keep a GPA of at least 2.0 and ensure their child attends the child care facility regularly. UA Little Rock will issue payments directly to the provider monthly and students must reapply each semester.

In addition to funding, eligible students will also have access to resources and support services.

“This will benefit not only the students but the university because we will be able to offer a wraparound service to our students leading to them not only being able to stay in school and achieve their degrees, but they will have those services to support themselves and their family,” Parker says.

Some of those services include access to parent training sessions and counseling services, both of which Caver says would be helpful.

“I went through a lot of mental health issues when I first had her, I wasn’t in a great space,” she says. “I did end up being diagnosed with postpartum depression so it was a hard time for me last semester.”

Students who don’t qualify for funding will still have access to services such as referrals to the university’s Care Team, student support specialists, success coaching, tutoring and other campus and community resources. Parker will also offer consultations to help students navigate child care services in central Arkansas. 

By providing funding and/or access to services, Parker hopes to remove barriers so parents can focus on being students and earn their degrees. Caver wants to become a lawyer so she’s majoring in legal studies and philosophy. Because law school can be expensive, she’s also minoring in dance so she can work in a studio part time to help pay for school. 

Officials estimate they’ll be able to serve roughly 40 students through the program initially, but Parker wants to grow it to assist more students and provide more services.

“I want us to be able to touch every student on this campus,” she says. “I want everyone to have the benefits they need to be able to receive their degree.”

UA Little Rock is hosting a virtual session for state-licensed child care providers interested in being part of the Child Care Connections program from 7 to 7:30 p.m. Mar. 7. The session will be hosted via Google Meet. More information about the program is available at www.ualr.edu/studentsuccess.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.