Child Care Aware® of America’s Parents and the High Cost of Care: 2013 Report received a huge reaction from the media – more than 250 references in the news, reaching an estimated 2 million readers and viewers.
In the report we noted child care is one of the lowest paying professional fields and one of the most labor-intensive. We asked a child care provider to share her perspective on the report.
Kathy Banks, M.Ed., is the executive director of the award-winning Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center in Virginia. In this guest blog she shares how the field has changed over the years, and how her team works to balance a successful, high-quality child care program with an innovative approach.
The Child Care Aware® of America publication, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report was a great prelude to the bi-partisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013, introduced last week by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY). The importance of early care and education is now being seen as what we, as providers, have known for decades. This age is a critical time of investment.
But while legislators continue to discuss why it is important for Americans to invest in early care and education on all levels, families continue to struggle to ensure their children remain in a high-quality program. The term child care suggests this is an institute for someone to watch children while parents work. While families do rely on child care to support working parents, the field has undergone great changes over the last few decades.
From child care to early education
Today, early care and education has improved the quality of learning for all children. With countless research findings how on a child’s brain develops, we now know that the influences children have in the first years of development are crucial to their success throughout their life. Because of this research, the field of early childhood education has increased quality requirements, added educational guidelines for teachers, and implemented early standards of learning that allow a child’s environment to be rich with positive interactions, and resources that enhance their learning experiences.
Preparing for kindergarten
Recognizing how essential it is to positively impact the brain activity while children are under age 5, educators now work to ensure that children are ready for the challenges that face them in kindergarten and beyond. Children who start kindergarten behind require additional services to catch up. If those services are not provided, children remain behind, and are subject to school failure.
The funding challenge
But public funding has yet to catch up with the quality changes. Many low-income families with young children can apply for federal assistance to help pay for child care. However, subsidy rates are at least 10 years behind the current market rates for child care services, and many local social service departments have long waiting lists.
If families do receive child care subsidies, many times, they are required to find quality care that will accept this subsidy rate. Many child care centers charge families, who are already struggling to afford care, the additional cost, over and above the subsidy rates. Right now, the subsidy leaves a balance that can range from $20 to $100 a week.
As the executive director of Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, we have made this struggle our mission.
Working to ensure that all families have access to quality early childhood education, we work with private funders and foundations to make ends meet.
But all centers do not have this option.
They either provide the professional quality early learning environment that our children deserve, or provide substandard care, accepting the fees offered through public funding to support families.
Then there are families who don’t meet the income guidelines to receive a public subsidy, but still have difficulties meeting the costs associated with quality early care and education.
Sometimes, families opt to have one parent stay home because the loss of one income is more economical than the cost of child care. While this may seem a solution to the rising cost, as explained earlier, the research backing the importance of early childhood education shows that children enrolled in a quality program show greater outcomes than those children who have not experienced it at all.
Americans need to stop viewing early care and education as “just child care,” and commit to the financial investment in our future.
Kathy Banks, M.Ed., is the executive director of the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center in Virginia.