By Stephanie Drozer
Like every other family, mine weathered the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic as best we can. In some respects, we’re lucky. My partner has a job. And though I would love to get back into the labor force after a short hiatus that began earlier this year, I’m savoring some time at home with my 3-year-old son.
Soon, though, we’ll need full-time child care at a price we can afford. It’s what we need to get by—and what my son needs to grow and thrive.
But my search for child care threatens to be harder than the search for work. One out of every five licensed child care programs in Washington state has closed, according to data collected by Child Care Aware of Washington , a nonprofit dedicated to supporting families and providers in the child care system; many of these will not reopen.
Early childhood education is essential
Working parents can’t work without child care. I know this, my partner knows this, and most employers know it too. And we know how important it is for young children to be in a safe, nurturing environment. When children get high-quality care, they thrive in kindergarten, graduate on time, and have the opportunity to succeed in their chosen professional or academic careers.
If we value children, parents who work, and a strong rebound from this economic crisis, we need to put public dollars into the child care system.
Even before the pandemic began, families struggled to afford child care, particularly Black, Latinx and Indigenous families. But the shutdown and the economic crisis have revealed how fragile the child care system is, too—an inequitable system that will continue to negatively impact families of color and ultimately our state’s economy.
Charging tuition–and asking for donations.
When my son’s child care center shut down in March, we paid tuition for an extra month. Then, the next month, as they remained closed, they asked all families to donate half the monthly tuition.
I was stunned. Even though child care is our largest single expense, the system operates on such thin margins that our son’s program didn’t have sufficient financial reserves beyond two months.
Despite the uncertainty of the past four months, I’m privileged to be at home with my son. I worry about the parents who are early childhood educators, disproportionately women of color, earning too little in the vital profession of scaffolding early childhood success.
These dedicated professionals’ do essential work in two ways. They nurture children who count on them for quality interactions that build growing brains. And they allow other working parents to fulfill their own on-the-job responsibilities.
We need to speak up.
Parents with kids under age 6 make up 15 percent of the state’s labor force. Even before the pandemic, the lack of affordable, high-quality care cost the state economy. A 2019 study estimated Washington lost $6.5 billion in revenue and missed opportunities for economic growth. The problem imposes costs on kids, families, businesses, and our economy.
As involved parents, community leaders and voters, we need to speak up. This spring Senator Patty Murray introduced The Child Care Is Essential Act to put billions toward early learning so that providers can support children, families, teachers, and the economy through the pandemic and beyond.
It’s the right thing to do. Congress will have to focus a portion of its next relief efforts on investing in the child care system, so it can provide the foundation for economic recovery and let parents get back to work. Done correctly, investments can create a less fragile, more equitable system. We want a system that meets the needs of all children, and enhances quality and stability by paying dedicated professionals a decent wage. Our kids, our families and our pandemic-era economy depend on it.
You can find out more about the issue through this action alert from the Children’s Alliance.
Stephanie Drozer is a Seattle mother, a facilitator for the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS), and an independent social impact consultant.