Two weeks ago, our 2020 Virtual Advocacy Summit was in full swing and we were preparing for the 3rd session, which focused on child care during the COVID-19 crisis. Our incredible panel consisted of author Elliot Haspel, business development specialist Jaime Odister and early learning specialist Suzette Espinosa-Cruz. I was fortunate to be the moderator for their fascinating and inspiring conversation about the impact the pandemic has had on child care teachers and workers, as well as families who rely on child care.
If you watched the session, you’ll know that the hour sped by and we had to end before all of the viewer’s questions were answered. (Side note, if you didn’t watch it, catch up now!) But we can take as much time as we want in a blog post, so we wanted to address some of the questions that we were unable to get to during the hour.
Kelly asked: “In our state we are ‘essential workers,’ but we are NOT compensated as essential workers. How do we retain our teachers when they can go work anywhere? We have lost most of our staff because they go work elsewhere. We have a 2-year waitlist and no teachers to work.”
This is a serious issue faced by child care programs across the country. Currently, with the increase in unemployment benefits, it can make more financial sense for the average child care worker to take unemployment than to continue working. Couple this with the risk that some workers face for contracting COVID-19 if they continue to work and there is a recipe for disaster among the child care workforce. SCAN and other early childhood education advocacy groups have raised this concern with Congress and are working to develop policies that will create pipeline of child care teachers. This will require significant investment in the child care workforce to ensure that they are properly compensated for their work and that the cost of their training pays off in the end.
Nate asked: “What can child care providers that are currently closed do to prepare for getting back to work?”
The Centers for Disease Control has put out guidance on how to best decide when to re-open and how best to do so.
In the meantime, there is an opportunity for providers that are currently closed to advocate to their local and state leaders about the need for additional support, both financially and for access to cleaning supplies and protective gear. State and local leaders need to know about the issues child care programs face and put in place supports to provide the equipment and supplies that programs need in order to provide safe care. Hearing directly from constituents is the most powerful message that lawmakers can hear, and child care providers and the families that they serve all have important stories to tell.
Melissa asked: “Why isn’t Congress prioritizing the issue of child care closures, given the impact on business, the economy, working families and kids?”
Congress is addressing a lot of different issues that are being brought to them. Unfortunately, some groups and industries are louder and able to get more attention. We need our advocates to continue to raise their voices so Congress hears loud and clear that child care needs financial support in order to make it through.
Natalie asked: “How can we shift the perception of early childhood education from ‘babysitting’ to ‘building and educating young minds?’”
There has been a lot of brain research and long-term studies showing the impact that high-quality early childhood education programs can have. We need to continue to share these benefits with our elected leaders so that they understand these benefits and why there is such a great return on investment for these types of programs. The voices of providers and families in particular are essential in this conversation, and help paint a very clear picture of how important high-quality early childhood education really is.
Corrine asked: “What do you think about fighting for Universal Child Care? Federal legislation was introduced last summer.”
Support for universal child care continues to grow. Many of the Democratic candidates that ran for president included universal child care in their platform. SCAN supports the idea of universal child care but realizes that there is still a long way to go before a majority of our elected officials are willing to finance the cost of this type of program. We continue to look for bipartisan opportunities to advance child care with the hopes that one day, all families will be able to access affordable care if they so choose.
Padma asked: “Are we seeing/going to see an increase in inequality rise due to the coronavirus? For example, families that can afford electronic learning will have an advantage?”
Unfortunately, I believe the short answer is yes. But there are many groups advocating to close the digital divide for students and making sure that a child’s zip code does not determine the future success. Advocates and policy makers will need to carefully study and then address the consequences of missed early childhood education opportunities in the months and years to come.
Thanks again to all of our amazing panelists from that evening, and thanks to all of you for your insightful questions! If you want to keep the conversation going, be sure to connect with us on social media.