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Child care for farmworkers’ children studied

The Washington Growers League and groups in Wisconsin and Texas are surveying farmers about child care for farmworker children and point to a Florida program that works well.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on February 8, 2016 9:39AM

A young girl, likely under age, picking apples in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard in 2014. She was helping her father pick. Children sometimes end up in orchards for lack of child care which can get growers in trouble with child labor laws.

Dan Wheat/Capital Press

A young girl, likely under age, picking apples in an East Wenatchee, Wash., orchard in 2014. She was helping her father pick. Children sometimes end up in orchards for lack of child care which can get growers in trouble with child labor laws.

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YAKIMA, Wash. — Growers of labor-intensive crops and farmworkers could greatly benefit by some sort of system providing child care for children of workers, say organizations that have been studying the issue.

It could keep growers out of legal trouble, meet workers’ need for child care and the cost wouldn’t have to be borne solely by employers, they say.

Washington Growers League, in Yakima, that represents growers in labor and worker safety and health issues, last year teamed up with the National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield, Wis., and the Environmental and Occupational Health Migrant Clinicians Network, Austin, Texas, to survey growers on barriers and motivators on providing child care.

Mike Gempler, executive director of the league, could not be reached for comment, but Barbara Lee, senior research scientist at the National Farm Medicine Center and director of its National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, said Gempler got the center interested in the issue.

“He said a lot of women want to work but can’t because they can’t find child care,” Lee said.

Cost and limited hours child care is available are barriers to employers providing it but a Florida program works well without growers or workers paying daily fees, Lee said.

Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Homestead, Fla., has been providing child care to workers for 50 years and has grown to serving 6,733 children in 21 counties. It is done with federal Head Start money, state dollars and donations from growers and other private parties.

“Three years ago, there was a half-million-dollar gift from a major avocado grower who loves the program,” Lee said. “No other state has a program this big or well organized.”

Donations, fundraising and non-governmental grants exceeded $1.7 million in 2015, according to RCMA’s annual report.

The Washington Growers League interviewed management and held focus groups with workers at a Central Washington cherry orchard and a Western Washington berry farm. Forty-two employers responded to an online survey.

Of the employers, 73 percent said they thought child care would result in having workers available to work more hours, 68 percent said it would result in more workers, 57 percent said it would mean a more stable workforce, 57 percent said it less concern about child safety and 30 percent said it would decrease jeopardy of child labor occurring.

Sixty-three percent of the employers said children are never brought to worksites, 21 percent said it rarely happens, 9 percent said it happens sometimes and 7 percent said it occurs frequently.

Federal law prohibits children under 12 from working with narrow exceptions.

A Mesa, Wash., grower paid a $16,000 fine last August to free his apples for sale after the U.S. Department of Labor placed a hold on the fruit, saying it found two children working in his orchard. The grower said the children, apparently brought by a worker for lack of child care, were not working but that he had to admit they were to get his apples freed.

Lee said another 71 employers were surveyed at a labor conference in Las Vegas and more at a meeting in Monterey, Calif. Of the 71, most produce tree fruit, nuts, berries and grapes. Fifty-six percent said children never come to worksites, 40 percent said companies should pay more attention to child care and 53 percent said business associates and customers would be pleased if employers supported child care for workers.

Lee said surveys show prime motivators for providing child care are: improved employee morale; a more stable workforce; enhanced company reputation; more women able to work; and decreased child labor jeopardy.



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