statueI read a sarcastic Craigslist post a few months ago that was circling among my educator cohort titled “Free Child Care.”  (I’ve looked for it since and can’t find it to link…you’ll have to use your imaginations.)  The post attempted, in witty tongue-in-cheek fashion, to illuminate the problem of child care costs by itemizing the actual cost of providing care for a child.  The writer was clever and the post struck a chord with my fellow educators, the sentiment being, Why do clients complain so much about the cost of child care?  Don’t they realize how little we make and how much we do?? 

On the other hand, I have friends in my parenting circles who want more children but choose against it (or choose to delay having other children), because they can’t afford the cost of child care.  Many of my fellow family child care providers had other careers before having children of their own, and then the cost of child care was too expensive for them to work.  They quit their jobs and opened their own child care programs.  They wonder, How can I pay for child care? The costs of placing my children in a child care program take up my entire paycheck.  How am I supposed to survive?

The cost of child care in the United States is oppressive.  The fact that families typically shoulder the entire cost of that care creates incredible inequity for children beginning at birth – families with means can afford to be choosy, while families with tighter incomes or unpredictable schedules don’t have as many options.

But cost is not the biggest problem with child care in the United States The biggest problem, the “gateway problem” to solving all other problems with child care in the United States is that the parties who share the most immediate investment in the process do not understand each other.  Early childhood professionals do not understand the perspective of the families they work for, and families do not understand the perspectives of the people who care for their children.

If we truly understood the perspectives of one another, problems like cost would find resolution. Certainly not overnight, but fixing systemic problems with child care – including equity, access, quality, and cost – starts with a solid cohort of individuals, highly invested in the process, who can see the problems from all sorts of different vantage points.

In seeking each other’s perspectives…

  • Families would see that child care providers are socially undervalued and under appreciated.
  • Child care providers would see the oppressive realities of cost.
  • Families would see that cumbersome clothing items (overalls, lace-up shoes) make daily activities like taking toddlers outside to play that much more exhausting for child care providers.
  • Child care providers would talk to parents directly, professionally, and respectfully about program clothing policies rather than venting on Facebook or to colleagues about that family who sends their children to care.
  • Families would see that sending a child who is ill places the community at risk for that illness.
  • Child care providers would appreciate the difficult position parents face when their children unexpectedly stay home (because of an illness, snow day, or an unexpected closing).
  • Families would see that child care providers work long, physically exhausting days, and ensure prompt pick up everyday.
  • Child care providers would withhold judgment of parents who choose to send their children to care even when the parents have a day off.  After all, parents who have free time to run errands without their children, clean house without their children, or even use child-free time to take a nap or get a massage are not a neglectful, but merely exercising important practices of self-care that will make them better parents.
  • Families would see that child care providers must take time to practice their own necessary self-care, and encourage them to do so.  After all, child care professionals who take time for themselves are better at their jobs, just like parents!  Child care providers do that in a variety of ways: working half-days on Fridays, closing for one Friday out of the month, or closing when public schools in the area declare snow days.

The United States faces big challenges when it comes to the youngest in society.  Solving issues of equity, access, cost, and quality will take creative visionaries who are ready to advocate on behalf of children.

Before we can do that, we have to understand each other enough to know what the issues really are.

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I recommend the book How Does It Feel? Child Care From A Parent’s Perspective by Anne Stonehouse