In 2020, COVID-19 turned the childcare profession upside down and sideways, exposing fault lines that were always there. Now that all of the flaws in the system have been exposed, the question remains: Where do we go from here?
Those of us in childcare have always known, deep down, that the status quo and the upward trajectory of the cost of quality daycare was unsustainable even as it was unrelenting. We knew that something would have to give, that changes to the foundation of the system would have to shift dramatically. We simply didn’t know it would take a pandemic for everyone else to realize how fragile the daycare industry really is.
If it was hard for a childcare center to make ends meet before, it’s even harder now. Mandates for smaller class sizes mean paying more staff. Frequent and deep cleanings to keep everyone healthy mean an increase in overhead costs for cleaning supplies and janitorial contracts. Most impactful of all, the drastic reduction of enrolled students: many parents are choosing to keep their children home out of concerns for the health and safety of their family; others can no longer afford the cost of care due to unemployment.
There are no easy answers here. The hard truth is that the daycare system will require an investment from all: the government, employers, communities. Parents alone cannot shoulder the cost, and daycare workers cannot continue to provide quality care without adequate compensation. Somewhere along the way, society decided that school-age education was vital and that every citizen should share the cost, but that early education and care was somehow not necessary. It has become a free-for-all. It is the wild wild west of parenting.
One glimmer of hope is the Biden Administration’s agenda from the campaign trail to create a 21st-century caregiving and education workforce. He has promised relief to struggling businesses to see them through the pandemic. Once the economy is on the road to recovery, there are additional items on the agenda that will be critical to making our industry a sustainable one and to giving every child equal access to the exceptional care they deserve.
Another beacon of light is you. Your voice can make a difference. If you are passionate about the importance of early childhood education and equal access to care, there are steps you can take to advocate for the industry on the local, statewide, and national level.
First, you’ll have to educate yourself. Resources like NAEYC’s America for Early Ed serve as an information hub, where you can learn about policy initiatives and opportunities. The goals can be briefly summarized as follows: ensuring families have choices when it comes to high-quality care, that early childhood education is fully funded, and that educators are recognized for their contributions and compensated accordingly. You’ll also want to review any policy action going on at the state level and determine whether, as a subject matter expert, those policies are sufficient or, at the very least, helpful.
Once you have the information, begin a dialogue with people in your community. See if you can round up support from your staff, who deserve a living wage, fellow daycare providers who may struggle to keep the lights on, and families who bear the burden of childhood costs and make sacrifices or borrow to afford them. Prepare some talking points to share so that everyone can be on the same page and share a united message.
Now that you have support and an agenda, you’re ready to talk to lawmakers. Seek out your state senator and assemblyperson – call, email, or schedule a time to meet with them (likely over Zoom during the pandemic). Do the same with your US congressman and senator. Learn ahead of time if possible where they stand on the issues you care about, and look at their voting records.
Advocacy is an important task that takes patience and persistence in order to be effective. But it can effect real change, and early childhood education requires deep structural changes in order to strengthen the availability of care to all children in a post-COVID world.
Working together with your people, you can make a difference for families everywhere. WϋnderCare stands with all those who work toward a better community with stronger families and equal starts for all of our young people.
We’re doing our part to make your job easier, while you do your part to make the world better – one child at a time.