Childcare Policy Author Discusses Problems With Cost And Access
The Park City Community Foundation Early Childhood Alliance brought a policy expert to town last week to discuss the ideal childcare system. The purpose was to raise awareness of the current childcare crisis impacting the nation and our Wasatch Back communities.
Early child education author Elliot Haspel discovered early in his career that a child's success in school links to their experiences between birth and five years old. He highlighted widely accepted data showing those years to be critical in neurological development.
"You still have a lot of people who think babies, infants, toddlers, are basically kind of like sacks of potatoes. They don't learn anything because they can't talk and can't move very much. And so, how are they learning? They're up towards a million neural connections happening every minute among our youngest children. There's a ton of learning happening."
Haspel's book is Crawling Behind-America's Childcare Crisis and How to Fix It. He said society expects the government to fund K through 12 education while ignoring the youngest children. He said programs are severely underfunded, and it's an issue of equity that children without quality childcare and pre-k struggle in school and later in life.
"I started my career in educational equity in the public school system. I was a fourth-grade elementary school teacher, but I was noticing that nowhere in the country was able to change the odds for children in terms of how much their zip code and the circumstances of their birth determine their outcomes. The more I looked into it, I realized a lot of this tracks back to birth, child development, the brain development in the early years, the outsized impact of the family in those early years are essential to the opportunities children have later in life."
Haspel said his ideal system would give every child the right to quality childcare starting at birth – and the economic return to society offsets the upfront costs.
“When you think about freedom, when you think about self-determination, the ability to choose your family size should not be determined by whether you can afford to raise a child. And that's also bad for the community if you think about economically, we see the birth rate, you know in America dropped to historic lows and that has real implications, down the line for our social safety net programs and our economy writ large."
Haspel said that parents earning minimum wages couldn't afford what a quality early childcare program would cost. With 80% of parents in the workforce, he believes families should pay little to nothing beyond taxes to access nurturing, loving, age-appropriate childcare. He said $700 billion a year goes to K through 12 education.
"Think about the public education system again. The difference between a child in the first grade and a child in preschool or childcare is often 12 to 24 months of age. And so, we have this weird system set up. There are historical reasons for it, from when a child is born until that child is five or six. As a society, it's basically like good luck parents. You're on your own. If you’re low income, we might provide you with some meager support, but we're going to make you jump through a ton of hoops to get it."
He said the federal reconciliation bill in Congress could provide hundreds of billions of dollars to support universal childcare programs. He also noted that local organizations like the Early Childhood Alliance would be needed to roll out appropriate programs for communities.
In a subsequent report, KPCW will cover Haspel’s ideas for how to improve provider wages and build a more robust and equitable childcare marketplace.
KPCW news reports on issues affecting children aged zero through three years old is brought to you by the Early Childhood fund at the Park City Community Foundation. For more information, Go to early childhood Alliance dotnet.