Opinion

Child care — the core of a healthy, functioning society

A woman and her baby boy on the beach in San Diego. (Photo: Sarmiento Photography, via Shutterstock)

For nearly a quarter of a century, Parent Voices, a partnership of parents throughout California, has led an annual event on the grounds of California’s Capitol called “Stand for Children Day.”

Each May, parent and youth leaders march side-by-side before meeting with legislators to advocate for policies that protect the state’s children and their families. Like countless others, our plans to meet on the statehouse grounds have been scrapped this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, as you can imagine, where there is a will there is a way—especially when it comes to our passionate parents.

Child care is a critical part of community infrastructure, interrelated with housing, health, workforce, transit and beyond.

Today, hundreds of us will gather virtually to shine a light on an issue that has been underscored by this global health crisis: expanding and sustaining access to child care services, and supporting child care programs.

Child care is a critical part of community infrastructure, interrelated with housing, health, workforce, transit and beyond. As COVID-19 turned the world upside down, nearly every family household has had to adjust to the closure of their children’s schools and child care programs. Many parents are now for the first time dealing with the challenges that come with working from home while also trying to keep children engaged.

But for many Californians, the ability to work from home and have their kids there beside them is a luxury.

While many of us agree that child care is the backbone of our economy, essential infrastructure workers have been left without access to child care. Many have no choice but to go to work, leaving their families in an impossible situation.

Vulnerable populations in our state, including women and children at risk of violence, communities of color, and those who have children with  disabilities, are also facing dangerous realities as they’ve been left without access to child care. Historically and presently, families on subsidized child care have been on waiting lists for even years to get the help they need. Many of these are families are precisely the essential workers that keep our societies healthy and functioning.

On the other end, child care programs —many of whom were already struggling to keep doors open—are lacking access to critical funding that will help them survive this crisis. Some researchers estimate that half of the child care programs in our country could virtually be wiped out after COVID-19 if they don’t get the funding they need. That is a terrifying reality we will undeniably have to face if action isn’t taken immediately. Essential workers—think grocery store clerks, agricultural workers,, utility crews and janitorial staff—and child care programs need support, now.

To be sure, Gov. Newsom acted decisively by declaring child care an essential service and provided $50 million to child care programs for cleaning supplies, masks, and gloves.  Additionally, Governor Newsom provided funding that will cover some programs through the end of the year and will cover child care for some families on the state’s subsidized child care program. Recognizing the severity of the circumstances, the Governor provided an additional $50 million that will cover child care costs for up to 22,000 essential workers for two months.

We urge the Governor and the Legislature to follow these initial steps with additional action as our child care programs must have the funds to stay open and the best way to honor the sacrifices made by essential workers is to allow them to keep their affordable child care for up to 12 months. Child care historically has been a gender issue and those most directly impacted are low-income women of color.

Whether it’s mothers who need child care to work or to provide the care, the best Mother’s Day gift would be a May Revise Budget that funds the system in way that meets the demands of the world we live in today.

As our government spends the next several years working on COVID-19 recovery, we must also ensure that child care doesn’t end up on the chopping block. Neglecting to do so would put another crisis into motion for years to come. As parents have always known and the nation has come to see, child care is always essential.

We can’t have a healthy and fully functional society without an equitable and accessible child care system to support it. Our cause at Parent Voices remains important, now more than ever. That’s why parents on the front lines will share their stories on May 6, followed by discussion of solutions with policymakers and fellow advocates. Please, join us virtually on Facebook Live and join in on the conversation. (https://www.facebook.com/events/183181532744178/)

Ed’s Note: Mary Ignatius is the Statewide Organizer of Parent Voices, a parent-led grassroots effort that advocates for affordable, accessible child care. She coordinates the work of its 13 chapters.


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