PBS NewsHour on the Cost of Child Care

Last week PBS NewsHour aired a story about child care and featured three families whose stories represent millions of others in the United States today; the story of families who find it is sometimes more affordable not to work, than to pay for child care, and the quality of child care they can afford.

I sat down with PBS NewsHour for the broadcast as well. We are often contacted for  comments, facts and history on the rising costs of child care – but few stories capture the real point behind our Cost of Care reports; that child care is an economic and education issue that affects everyone.

The cost of child care is certainly financial news, but more importantly the cost of child care highlights how our nation’s child care system is preventing families from working because it’s simply too expensive and families don’t often know what they’re really getting for that price.  Instead of a child care system that empowers families to make a better life for them and their children, we have a child care system that is fragmented and frankly, in too many cases, simply unsafe.

This summer, Child Care Aware of America will release its annual Child Care in America State Fact Sheets. These reports lay bare the numbers beyond cost – availability, how families pay for child care, what states pay to subsidize child care and many more facts about working families today. We look forward to the dialogue.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the PBS NewsHour broadcast? Watch,  then comment below.

 

Buzz on early childhood is good; progress still needed

Struggling to get out of poverty: The Two Generation Approach” tells on NPR, the story of two mothers who participate in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Career Advance program. It’s one of at least three stories I’ve seen over the past week highlighting early education, the benefits and the costs.

Career Advance puts to practice the “two generation” approach to ending poverty, by providing quality early childhood experiences to children while at the same time supporting their parents’ economic advancement.

Starting education at age four is too late
NPR’s new education team also laid out some answers to the question; what is quality preschool?  The story does well to share the facts on early education in this country, and it also rightly, if not intentionally, highlights a huge gap in the way we think about early childhood education.   We need to ensure we consider the entire developmental continuum.  Preschool is important and we cannot forget about the babies.

Children learn from birth, and of the 1.1 million families who received child care referrals from child care resource and referral agencies in this country, more than half were for infants and toddlers.  Babies and toddlers must receive the same level of quality in child care as they should in preschool programs they enter at age four.

Or, as written in a 2011 Forbes article about George Kaiser: “Oklahoma, like a lot of places in America, has universal preschool, but it begins only at age 4, at which point many poor kids are so far behind their rich peers that they’ll never catch up. Early Head Start programs for infants and toddlers offer slots for only 3% of Tulsa’s 10,000 low-income kids, a rate similar to the national one.

‘Reaching 50% wouldn’t be impossible, at $30 billion per year,’ says Kaiser, except it would never happen because the dispossessed don’t have many lobbyists.’ ”

Parents pay costs of early education
The NPR story was also compelling because it also showed the depth of investment needed to achieve positive results. The program got off the ground thanks to support from The George Kaiser Family Foundation. The program is now funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most families, it’s the parents who pay for child care – quality or not.

Cost of Care graphic

Our “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2013 Report”  generated more than 400 media stories across the country last fall and has seen a renewed interest following the Pew Research Center’s report on the increase in women opting out of the workforce to stay home with their children as well as a Washington Post story.

The question I get asked most often is why is child care so expensive? The simple answer is, running a quality program costs a lot of money, and in the business of early learning, the bulk of the cost is absorbed by the families.

The more important question is, what are we, or are we not, getting for that price? Are families getting quality care for their children? Families cannot do it alone. In the end, we all pay the cost for low investment and low quality for our children, even in health care.

The health connection
James Heckman, the Nobel laureate who made the economic case for early childhood investment,  recently released findings of a link between investments in quality early childhood programs and preventing chronic disease.

Professor Heckman and his colleagues continue to demonstrate through research that investments made early in quality early childhood programs prove to prevent challenges later in life. Watch the video about Heckman and his team’s research on chronic disease and early childhood programs.

We need to spread the word that early investments matter and quality child care programs have proven to have many beneficial outcomes for our children and their future.

Provider Appreciation
This Friday, May 9th is Provider Appreciation Day. As we seek solutions so that all families can access the opportunities inherent in quality child care we must also applaud and honor the providers of that care and the important work they do each day, in partnership with families, to nurture and prepare our nation’s children for school and beyond.

Will you commit to showing appreciation for those who are helping to raise a brighter future? Join us www.providerappreciationday.org

 

 

Provider Appreciation Day: A call for pay, preparation and promotion of our early childhood educators

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.

Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me.  It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.

Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks.  Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child.  Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.  Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Quality suffers
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.

Solutions
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.

Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round.  What other solutions would you suggest?

 

From Rhetoric to Reality: Inspiring the Nation to Action

SOTU2014Steeped in history and required by the United States Constitution, the President is required “from time to time” to give the Congress information about the State of the Union and to recommend for their consideration measures he deems “necessary and expedient.”

It’s more than a great speech- it is an opportunity to focus the nation on key national priorities. Some are remembered for their historic moments like President Bush’s first after September 11th when he encouraged “We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

President Clinton when he called on Congress to create “The Information Superhighway” or President Kennedy challenging our nation to land a man on the moon. And who can forget the 50-year-old declaration from President Johnson on a “War on human Poverty.”

Focusing on early education
Last year’s State of the Union Speech by President Obama held that same hope for child advocates everywhere. For the first time in a generation, the President placed early education front and center- much more than a mere mention in a laundry list of domestic priorities.

President Obama reminded us and educated others that a child’s first years of life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school. He made it about education but also about economics, noting the fact that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for lower-income families and put them on the path to economic security and self-reliance. The President took the historic step of calling on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool for every child in America and asserting that a zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities.

The good news is that tonight, during his 5th State of the Union address, the President stated, “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education… we can’t wait. So, just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.”

The great news is that he and his administration are already taking important steps to turn that rhetoric into reality.

More than talk
Late last year, early childhood education was one of the biggest winners in the most recent federal Appropriations bill – receiving a more than $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care and grants to states. Congress clearly heard the overwhelming support for early learning from key voices across the country including business leaders, law enforcement officials, economists, governors – and many more. This increased federal funding will more than restore early childhood education sequestration cuts, as well as provide a significant increase in funding. A bill reauthorizing CCDBG has been introduced and has bi-partisan support in the Senate. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act has been introduced and has bipartisan support in the House.

Making investments in high-quality early childhood care and education is a clear economic solution backed by a proven body of research, high returns on investment, and it’s the right priority for our policymakers.

By increasing federal investments, we can ensure that our children do better in school, acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21stcentury economy, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy as adults. We also know that learning begins from birth and that quality affordable child care, from infancy, is critical to our nation’s families. We will continue to “raise our hands” and our voices this year to ensure that high quality child care is a major part of the nation’s early education agenda.

To draw from past inspirations from our President, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”

So let’s do what works and make sure that none of our children start the race of life already behind.

Get more:
Follow Child Care Aware® of America live tweets from the White House
Discuss the issues live: Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium
Child care provider reacts to Cost of Care Report
Strong Start for America’s Children Act

Children and the War on Poverty

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives) http://cb100.acf.hhs.gov/childrens-bureau-timeline

Lady Bird Johnson reads to children in a Project Head Start classroom, March 19, 1966. (National Archives)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of “The War on Poverty.” In January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched several initiatives to help lift the 1 in 5 Americans who were living in poverty at the time.

“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it”
Lyndon B. Johnson 1964 State of the Union Address


One of those initiatives was Head Start.  Now, the program serves more than 1 million children.

“Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty, providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. ”  Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/history-of-head-start

In 2014, we still have work to do. Today, Child Care Aware®  of America will join the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity and the Urban Institute and to discuss developments in policy and child care. Register here to participate.

Resources:
Audio Conference: Streamlining child care subsidies: Better for families and state agencies
White House.gov blog on War on Poverty anniversary
Continuum of education – Office of Child Care
Child Care Aware® of America 2014 Symposium

2013: Setting the Stage for Young Children in 2014

For years Child Care Aware® of America has shared one message: affordable, high quality child care matters. It matters for children and it matters for families.

This year, the White House took notice, with President Obama making expanded opportunities for high quality child care and early learning not just a part of his policy agenda, but a central focus of that agenda so that “none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

This unparalleled attention to an issue that impacts the more than 11 million children in out of home care was met with welcomed hope and renewed inspiration.

Perhaps finally our pleas for focus and attention to quality and safety would be heeded.

Maybe all states that participate in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) would have to ensure minimum health and safety standards in their programs.

Perhaps training, which is currently required in only half of the states would be extended to all.

Maybe states would be expected to conduct routine inspections more frequently than every 5 or 6 years and background checks would be conducted on all who accept a fee for child care.

President Obama embraced this challenge early on, sharing his vision for a quality early learning system for all in his 2013 State of the Union address; promoting early learning as an economic development strategy and as essential to ensuring that children enter school ready to learn so we can prevent achievement gaps before they begin.

It didn’t end there. He backed it up with a promise to fund states who embraced quality. He proposed new regulations for CCDBG, a program which hadn’t been reauthorized in more than 17 years.

Later, in his budget, President Obama proposed a new $75 billion investment in a high quality, coordinated early learning program that would ensure all children would have access to preschool. The Obama administration leadership shed light on how few children have access to quality child care and that state laws vary greatly. They did so by focusing attention on five areas:

  • Improving the Quality of Child Care: Access to affordable, safe, quality child care is essential for all families: without it, many families are left with the untenable choice of leaving their children in substandard care, or risk losing their jobs. New comprehensive rules proposed by the Obama administration are pending and have been echoed in the first bi-partisan reauthorization proposal for CCDBG in more than 17 years. The proposed rule and CCDBG reauthorization set the stage for significant improvements in 2014 for the largest program funding child care services in the United States.
  • Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships: The President also announced plans to expand the supply of early learning for children from birth to age 3 by making a $1.4 billion investment in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. This means Early Head Start grantees would partner with child care providers who agree to meet high standards of quality.
  • Preschool for All: In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: In our youngest children.
  • Empowering Parents: We all know the important role that families play in promoting the healthy development of their children, yet not all families are equipped with the information and support they need to create positive environments for their children to develop and learn. The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program created under the Affordable Care Act expands evidence-based home visiting programs in states to serve the most vulnerable children and families to better ensure that children are healthy and prepared for school and life. The President put forward a proposal to extend funding of this $1.5 billion program for another 10 years in the 2013 State of the Union address.
  • Raising the Bar for Early Learning through Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants: The Obama administration has invested in comprehensive improvements to state early learning systems through Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a new competition that challenges states to deliver better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful education and training for early educators. This program represents an unprecedented opportunity for states to focus on early learning and development systems in their states and build a more unified approach to supporting young children and their families to make sure that more children, especially those with high needs, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

We have much to be thankful for, and yet much more to do. Last year was a launch pad for action in 2014. Major legislation has been introduced and needs our sustained voices to gain momentum and convey the sense of urgency needed to propel it into law.

Child Care Aware® of America is not alone. We stand with hundreds of other committed organizations who share the same mission and goal. We stand with the parents and children whose stories tell us why we must demand action from decision makers.  Child Care Aware® of America has raised its hand and stands at the ready to make those decisions happen. Raise your hand. Stand with us in 2014.

Get more: Raise Your Hand webinar series on child care and early education in America.

Child Care Provider Reacts to Cost of Care Report

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.

~ Lynette

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.

Our solution
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.

Tough choices
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.