Access to quality childcare is in a crisis, according to policy experts. They're worried that children whose parents can't afford quality daycare will be left behind.
In the second installment of the two-part series, KPCW reports on solutions that visiting author Elliot Haspel has for building a more robust, all-inclusive childcare system in the United States.
Policy expert and author Elliot Haspel said finding enough providers to staff childcare facilities was hard before COVID-19. And the pandemic made things worse, as people left the workforce to care for family members during the shutdown.
Haspel recently presented research from his book “Crawling Behind, America's Childcare Crisis” to local stakeholders. He outlined problems with wage disparity suggesting providers need better pay and benefits to respond to what he calls a growing crisis.
"In Utah, according to the Center for the Study of childcare employment, out of UC Berkeley, the median wage for a childcare worker in Utah is $10.47, which means half of them are making less. When you have that level of compensation going on in another kind of low-wage industries, in the service and retail, right, McDonald's is raising their wages. Amazon and Target are up to the $15 starting wage. They're offering benefits, I think, ironically, some of them are offering childcare benefits as a way to incentivize workers. It's really hard for childcare programs to compete. Childcare programs can't just raise their prices. Parents can't pay anymore."
Haspel said the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill currently in Congress has excellent potential to address staffing pay standards and the need for professional training opportunities for providers. His work supports using federal funds to expand outreach to all socioeconomic communities. He said local innovation and resources are essential because every community has different childcare needs.
"Have these local organizations who understand the needs of their local populations and are already working on innovating ways to reach those families, to provide them what they're going to need, that's essential—so being able to support the work of your local infrastructure. And then the other thing is the local advocacy--so being able to talk with local elected officials, statewide elected officials, and eventually with federal elected officials. And this is a two-way dialogue so that they're passing policy that will work when it comes back down to the local level. What we wouldn't want to see happen is all this money come and then actually not be implemented effectively."
Haspel said there are things to learn from the antiquated public education system in the US. He believes the Government should fund early childcare and education but not necessarily run the programs.
"Parents can access care delivered through public means. So, you know, a Headstart program or public pre-K program, or through private means, through something from a faith community, a family that opens their home and then has a business to take children in. Even though our US public education system tracks back to Thomas Jefferson and the late 18th century. In fact, we can learn from what's good about that, which is that everyone, regardless of income, can access it, they have a spot, there's no worry about. We can also learn from what doesn't work well. I mean the public education system, the over standardization, the inequities along socioeconomic and racial lines."
He believes a system based on parent choice would dispel any concerns about government's role in social programs. Haspel also said society is changing its mindset about the importance of early childhood education and the critical role in defining a child's later success.
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.net.