Sunday, August 20, 2023

Childcare Assistance for Bar Takers: Impactful Opportunities to Assist

When it comes to taking the bar exam, it seems that the primary resource concerns expressed by various stakeholders involve time, money, materials, and dedicated study spaces. However, other impactful factors are important to consider alongside these items, including the impact of working while studying, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and other life quality factors.

One factor that has been on my radar recently is the apparent lack of available resources for childcare assistance for bar takers. Although we often take into consideration the aforementioned factors, the impact of a lack of childcare assistance is one that unfortunately often gets overlooked. However, the time, attention, money, and energy that goes into the care of children, especially young children, can be especially taxing on bar takers who are already strained in terms of resources, therefore it is an important area to address.

In order to assist Academic Support Professionals and other stakeholders in the legal education community, I wanted to share how I was able to assist a bar taker in securing childcare assistance resources in my state (Georgia), and then also wanted to provide you with eight tips you can share with your bar takers to assist them in finding resources to assist them post-graduation while studying for the bar exam.

Childcare Assistance Resources in Georgia: The Georgia CAPS Program

The Georgia Childcare and Parent Services (‘Georgia CAPS’ or ‘CAPS’) program provides financial assistance to eligible families to help with the cost of child care. In assisting bar takers with access to the resources of this program, we had to generally follow the below steps (please note that specific identifying information and other narrative modifications have been made to protect bar takers' identities and for illustrative-ease purposes regarding the general processes and procedures).

  1. Determine Eligibility:

Eligibility for the Georgia CAPS program is based on factors such as income, family size, work, or education status. We researched specific eligibility criteria on the Georgia CAPS website and by contacting the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). The bar taker also had to complete a PreApplication Screener.

  1. Apply for Assistance:

Once we were confident in eligibility, it was time to apply for childcare assistance through the Georgia CAPS program. Our bar taker needed to fill out the application which can be obtained online through the Georgia CAPS website or at local CAPS offices. A Georgia Gateway account was required.

  1. Submit Required Documents:

The application process typically requires individuals to submit various documents to verify eligibility, such as income documentation, proof of work or education, and information about family size. It is imperative to provide all the necessary documents along with an application.

CRITICAL MOMENT: Our bar taker was no longer enrolled in law school, and this is where the snag in the process typically occurs. However, the eligibility requirements specifically list “State-Approved Activities” which includes online coursework in pursuit of vocational goals, so the critical part of this process was getting a commercial bar prep course approved to satisfy the proof of education requirement. We worked with a commercial bar prep provider to have them provide the documentation to the state regarding the course hour requirements weekly, and the state approved this for educational/vocational purposes. Voila, we were on the way!

  1. Attend an Interview (If Required):

Depending on a bar taker’s situation and the local Georgia CAPS office requirements, the bar taker in Georgia may be required to attend an interview to further discuss eligibility and childcare needs. This was not required in our circumstances.

  1. Receive Approval and Voucher:

Once our application was approved, we received notice of eligibility along with a childcare assistance voucher. The voucher can be used to access childcare services from approved providers participating in the Georgia CAPS program, so the next step was our bar taker choosing an approved provider.

  1. Choose an Approved Provider:

Our bar taker then had to research and select an approved childcare provider who participates in the Georgia CAPS program. The provider must be licensed or exempt from licensure and willing to accept CAPS payments, and our bar taker was able to select one that the bar taker was comfortable with and felt was trustworthy.

  1. Provide Ongoing Eligibility Documentation:

After receiving childcare assistance through the Georgia CAPS program, our bar taker was required to provide ongoing documentation to ensure their continued eligibility. This could potentially include updates on the bar taker’s coursework progress, education status, employment, and any income changes.

  1. Celebrate Success: It’s always important to celebrate success in helping! Our bar taker was able to complete the process and obtain childcare assistance in the state of Georgia for the full cycle of bar study. This greatly assisted this individual with being able to dedicate study time, and attention, as well as provided the ability to balance financial resources to ensure the taker was in the best position for success on the bar exam.

It is very likely that your state also offers similar opportunities for assistance, and by partnering with your bar vendors to provide documentation and evidentiary support of your bar takers’ programs and time requirements, you will very likely be able to help similarly-situated individuals who need assistance during this critical time.

Eight Tips for Bar Takers Seeking Childcare Assistance

Remember, getting childcare assistance while taking the bar exam will depend on the specific programs and resources offered by the state in which you are taking the exam. Each state will have different options and eligibility criteria. Here are eight tips you can pass on to your bar takers to explore childcare assistance options:

  1. Check the State Bar Association Website: Start by visiting the website of the state's bar association. Look for information on any childcare assistance programs they may offer for bar exam takers. Make sure to carefully review bar exam dates and to think carefully about what childcare coverage and assistance you may need.
  1. Contact the State Bar Association: If you cannot find specific information on the website, reach out to the state bar association directly via phone or email. Inquire about any available childcare assistance programs or resources for bar exam takers.
  1. Inquire with Law Schools and Universities: Law schools in the state where you are taking the bar exam may have programs or services to support their graduates during the exam period. Contact the law schools in the area and ask if they offer any childcare assistance for bar exam takers. Although bar takers often consult their law schools, it is important to utilize all potential resources, so conduct a broad search.
  1. Government Assistance Programs: Check with local government agencies or social service organizations to see if there are any childcare subsidies or assistance programs available to individuals in your situation.
  1. Scholarships or Grants: Some states or organizations may offer scholarships or grants to help cover childcare expenses for individuals taking the bar exam. Look for any relevant opportunities that you might be eligible for.
  1. Law Firm Support: If you are currently employed by a law firm, inquire about any policies or programs they have in place to support employees taking the bar exam, including childcare assistance.
  1. Online Communities and Forums: Join online forums or social media groups related to law students or bar exam takers. Other individuals who have gone through similar situations may be able to provide advice and guidance on finding childcare assistance.
  1. Plan in Advance: It is essential to start researching childcare assistance options early in your bar exam preparation. Some programs may have limited funding or availability, so planning will increase your chances of securing support. It will also help you in considering budgets in terms of financial resources and your valuable study time.

Remember that childcare assistance programs may vary significantly from state to state and may be subject to budget limitations, vocational and educational requirements, and other limiting factors. It is essential to be proactive in your search for support and explore all available resources in your area. Additionally, be prepared to provide the necessary documentation and meet any eligibility requirements to qualify for childcare assistance programs.

(Scot Goins - Guest Blogger)

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