Affordable and quality child care should be available to all families. Unfortunately, child care options vary widely across the country, leaving some families with few to no options when it comes to who will take care of their children while they work or go to school. For others, the high cost of child care is a barrier, forcing families (disproportionately moms) out of the workforce. This intersection of expense and a lack of available options has led to a very real child care crisis in the US.
This month, a comprehensive report on the child care crisis was jointly released by the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Law and Social Policy, Community Change, Every Child Matters, MomsRising, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Service Employees International Union.
The report highlights the fact that better child care benefits go far beyond the child’s home.
It’s easy to see how better access to child care would be a boon for individual families, but there are also huge benefits to society as a whole. In this report, the benefits of investing in a quality child care system are detailed:
- Access to high-quality child care from early in life starts children on a path toward success, in school and beyond. Children in a quality child care setting are exposed to early childhood education and are able to learn school readiness skills — things we cannot ensure are made available in every home.
- Public sector investments in child care increases families’ earnings and promotes financial security. With quality child care options, single and dual parent homes are able to work when necessary. According to the report, “Parents, particularly mothers, who have access to reliable, affordable child care are more likely to participate in the labor force and experience fewer career interruptions due to child care challenges.” With less of their budget going to child care, families can attend to other basic needs more easily and allows for more personal spending, boosting the current economy.
- Investing in child care boosts short- and long-term economic growth, too. Access to quality child care not only allows parents to work, but helps children get off to the right start in life. “Research based on high-quality early childhood programs have found that for every $1 invested in early childhood education, there is a $4 to $9 return to society over the course of a child’s life.”
- Child care is important for advancing gender and racial equity. In our society, it’s often women who have the burden of finding child care so they can work. Women of color are even more likely to have this burden. Women, especially women of color, are paid less than men in the workforce. Equalizing child care can help reduce gender and racial inequities as well.
The report also makes eight benchmark recommendations for a new national policy that includes child care reform.
While emphasizing the importance of quality child care, the report also shares the following aspects that should be included in a new child care policy or proposal:
- Lower child care costs for low- and moderate-income families. The report recommends “capping costs at 7 percent of income, but also using a sliding scale to determine how much families should pay.” This would help ensure that child care was affordable for lower-earning families who currently might not be able to afford child care.
- Provide flexibility to accommodate complex work schedules. Parents often work hours outside the typical nine to five schedule. Families need the options of in-home and out-of-home care to find what works for their schedule and their children.
- Increase options for families by building supply and addressing child care deserts. More support is needed to make sure quality child care options are available in all areas and are supporting all kids.
- Ensure child care programs are accessible to children and adults with disabilities. More child care programs need to be trained to support children with disabilities and also to serve parents who have a disability.
- Expand high-quality options available to families. Child care centers and home based programs need to meet a high standard of service but must be given the resources to improve what they are able to offer.
- Improve compensation, working conditions, and professional development opportunities for early educators. The report argues that “[e]very early educator deserves a living wage and parity with K-12 teachers for commensurate levels of education, experience, and competency.”
- Affirm the right of early educators to join a union. Unionizing early educators would give them the opportunity to have a voice to lobby for equal rights and equal pay.
- Provide a platform for input from early educators and families directly affected by child care policy. People whose voices have gone largely unheard should have an avenue to share their experiences and feedback on child care policies.
The report on the child care crisis is eye-opening. Why isn’t our child care system as regulated and supported as our education system? Aren’t those early years and after school and summer programs just as important as school hours? Hopefully this new report will shed some light and bring forth progress in the case for child care change.