A screenshot from the 3rd session of the 2020 Virtual Advocacy Summit.
America is facing a difficult decision right now: when to begin the process of reopening the country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a stressful situation, especially for families. Many parents are worried about access to child care if they are called back into work. Unfortunately, they have good concern to worry.
Sadly, a majority of child care programs already operated on a thin financial margin before the pandemic. Now that they have been forced to close or operate in a limited capacity, many providers are closing their doors for good. In short, the child care industry is in crisis. Without intervention, these teachers and caregivers will lose their income, and families will lose access to safe, quality programs for their children.
This critical concern was the topic of the 3rd session of the 2020 Virtual Advocacy Summit. The session was moderated by Save the Children Action Network’s Director of Federal Government Relations, Roy Chrobocinski.
Meet the Expert: Elliot Haspel
Elliot Haspel is an early childhood policy expert and the author of Crawling Behind: America’s Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It. He explained how the child care industry was overlooked even before the pandemic. Early learning and care defines much of a child’s educational success, he said, yet historically it’s been severely underfunded. So when a crisis like COVID-19 hits, the system is prone to collapse. Parents are struggling as well. Many are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to retain a spot and keep the program they rely on afloat. “We’re throwing a small bucket of water at a raging fire,” he said.
Elliot argued that the solution is to fund the service through taxes, similar to funding for public schools. “There are a set of things that we as a society deemed are important enough—we call them public goods – that we will pay for them with taxes so the burden doesn’t fall on the end user,” he said. “It makes no sense that child care doesn’t fall into public funding.”
Meet the Expert: Jaime T. Odister
Jaime T. Odister has more than 15 years’ experience with nonprofit organizations that focus on adolescents in mental health and early child care throughout the Detroit metro area. She currently works as a business development specialist, supporting child care providers.
“The concern is so vast,” she said. Many of the providers she works with are facing impossible questions. How do you social distance with a toddler? How do you manage drop offs and pick-ups? When your business plan is built for 65 kids but you can only have 30, how do you adapt? And how do you open when there isn’t enough food for the children or disinfectant supplies to keep the children and staff safe?
Jamie flagged that many of these concerns come down to a lack of investment in child care. She believes that part of the problem is the fact that child care currently falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, instead of the Department of Education.
“They’re held accountable for what happens when kids get to K-12, but they don’t get the same funding as the education system” she said. “[Pre-k] is the foundation of education. So why doesn’t it fall under education?”
Meet the Expert: Suzette Espinosa-Cruz
Suzette Espinosa-Cruz, echoed many of Jamie and Elliot’s points. She is an early learning specialist based in Seattle, and many of the providers she’s working with are facing serious challenges.
“[Before coronavirus], we were already seeing a trend where we were losing child care providers. Now only 40% of providers are open,” she said. This has led to a huge deficit in available infant and toddler spaces – spots that are already notoriously difficult to find.
She also brought up the big concern for in-home providers: potentially exposing their homes and families to the virus. These providers aren’t able to get any personal protective equipment (PPE). They just have to hope that the parents and children they interact with aren’t carriers of the illness.
“Schools get to close, but child care is told: ‘Wait…you have to stay open. But we aren’t going to pay you any additional funding to do that. We don’t have any PPE for you,’” she said. That leaves many providers to wonder why they’re deemed “essential” but aren’t given any support to protect themselves or their businesses.
It’s Time to Act
The stories and testimonies from Elliot, Jamie and Suzette highlighted how imperative child care is to families and the economy, and how important it is to ensure that these businesses can survive the pandemic. As it turns out, many Americans agree.
SCAN recently conducted a national poll with Child Care Aware about the child care industry. The poll results showed strong, bipartisan support behind the idea that Congress should provide financial assistance directly to the child care industry. 87% of respondents – including 94% of Democrats, 82% of Republicans and 84% of Independents – supported providing direct assistance to child care programs so they could pay their workers, rent and utilities in order to survive this crisis.
Despite the strong support for the child care industry, nothing will change if people do not speak up.
“Congress needs to hear more about the human side. They get caught up in the money. If they can help out banks and big businesses, they should be able to do something to save child care,” Suzette said. “[Child care providers] don’t feel like they can advocate for themselves or don’t know how, or where to start. So those of us who have the privilege to speak up for these child care workers or providers need to.”
As the session wound down, the panelists returned to one point: the essential need for child care. Parents need to know that their children are safe when they’re working. The economy and family budgets rely on parents returning to work. And most importantly, every child deserves to learn, play and grow in a safe, high-quality environment. Investing in children is investing in our future. And that is why all of us need to raise our voices and urge Congress to protect the most essential business for the future of our nation: child care.
Want to watch the full conversation? View it here >>