Investing in Our Littlest Learners is No Small Matter

Co-director of No Small Matter, Greg Jacobs, on set with Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. 

As a documentary filmmaker, it’s my job to talk to people—and more importantly, to listen.

In early 2019, after a screening of our documentary No Small Matter in Marietta, Ohio, I had a conversation that has stuck with me ever since. It began with the topic of the cost of child care.

A young woman mentioned that “everyone she knew” was doing one of three things: staying at a job solely for the health care because all of their take-home pay was going to child care; putting off having a second child until their first was in kindergarten because they couldn’t afford care for both; or dropping out of the workforce entirely because, no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t make it work.

Of course, none of this was new. The problems she described had been building for decades—it was why my co-directors, Danny Alpert and Jon Siskel, and I made No Small Matter in the first place. But something about the matter-of-factness of her description really hit home. Here was an entire generation, forced to contort their lives around America’s failure to address one of the basic responsibilities of any human society— supporting families with babies and young children—with no reason to believe things could be different.

And that was before COVID-19.

Over the last three months, the pandemic has taken our already fragile early learning infrastructure and pushed it to the brink of collapse. More than half of all child care programs were forced to close this spring, and the ones that stayed open did so at great risk to the health of providers and their families.  In the coming months, thousands of child care facilities may be forced to close permanently, eliminating an estimated 4.5 million licensed slots—nearly half the national total. More than 300,000 child care workers lost their jobs in April alone. With no other option but to stay home with their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, millions of parents will be unable to return to work, paralyzing efforts to restart the nation’s economy. What has suddenly become searingly self-evident is that early education is essential. Put simply, America doesn’t work without it.

The No Small Matter team often says that if it takes a village to raise a child, then our documentary is about what happens when the village disappears and nothing takes its place. Over the past three months, the proverbial village has disappeared in an all-too-literal way, and the impact will be felt for decades if America doesn’t move quickly to confront the threat. We never could have imagined this crisis when we created No Small Matter. Yet the movie was made for this moment.

That’s why on June 25, we are presenting “Everyday Heroes: Child Care Is No Small Matter”, an unprecedented Facebook Live screening event designed to generate support for the urgent action needed to tackle America’s child care crisis. The event will feature the national streaming premiere of No Small Matter, followed by a live panel discussion highlighting the devastating impact of COVID-19 on children, families, and caregivers, and in turn, on the economy.  And it will all be kicked off by the “Virtual Yellow Room Half Hour Variety Hour”—a joyful “class” for kids and parents, hosted by No Small Matter’s superstar preschool teacher, Rachel Giannini.

There has never been a more dramatic moment to shine a national spotlight on a system that should be shaped around the needs of parents and caregivers—not the other way around—and in turn, to transform the way Americans view investments in early learning. Thanks to the far-reaching support of partners like Save the Children Action Network, we believe we can make Everyday Heroes a galvanizing event for a game-changing issue. We hope you’ll join us!

Join Save the Children Action Network and partners on June 25th for the national premiere screening of the film, followed by a town hall conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on child care in America.