Good child care: Listen to parents, kids, providers

An illustration of children at play. (Image: Nowik Sylwia, via Shutterstock)

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that may be true. But this much we know for certain: for working families in today’s economy, it takes, if not a village, at least a solid team.

The backbone of that team is parents, children and caregivers. Parents must work to afford housing, food and other necessities. Children require a safe, nurturing place to be when mom and dad are at their jobs. In order to thrive, families need to team up with affordable, high-quality child care providers. Working parents plus great child care providers equals success.

In California today, that formula isn’t working.

Because of the shortage of licensed child care slots and a lack of sufficient state funding, only 1 in 9 of the nearly 2 million California children eligible for subsidized child care actually receive it.

The state’s patchwork system to assist low- and moderate-income families does not come close to meeting the needs of working parents and fixing it hasn’t been a priority in Sacramento. Adjusted for inflation, the state is spending less today to support child care than it was a decade ago.

There are too few licensed child care spaces for kids, not enough to care for even a quarter of all California children under 12 with working parents. The care available is far too expensive – more than $10,000 a year for a toddler and much more for an infant. Child care expenses consume 21 percent of family income for a typical married couple with two kids, and the cost is simply out of reach for a typical single mother.

In writing, state policy recognizes that child care must be accessible and affordable to be effective.

But because of the shortage of licensed child care slots and a lack of sufficient state funding, only 1 in 9 of the nearly 2 million California children eligible for subsidized child care actually receive it. At the same time, child care providers are struggling to stay in business. Licensed family child care providers – people who care for children in their homes – are not covered by wage and hour laws, receive no employer-based benefits and make as little as $5 to $7 an hour.

Increasingly, working parents looking for a child care provider are unable to find one. That’s unfortunate because these teams of parents, children and providers are crucial for all of California. We know because we are such a team, one of tens of thousands across California that make our economy work, enable our families to succeed and allow our children to thrive.

One of us – Ruby – is a delivery driver for Amazon, a demanding job with 10-hour shifts and work schedules that can sometimes change. The other – Charlotte – is an independent child care provider who runs a program out of her home that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each of us can succeed only if the other does.

Together, we have been active supporters of the work of Charlotte’s union, the United Domestic Workers, to strengthen California’s child care network. But California law does not grant child care providers such as Charlotte a seat at the table in negotiating with the state over such matters as training requirements, health and safety issues and wages.

Nothing will change until parents and providers team up to advocate for policies and changes that will meet the needs of parents and children alike. That’s why we are urging the Legislature to pass AB 378, a bill to give child care providers a seat at the table and collective bargaining rights.

This right now exists in 11 other states, and experience has shown it has helped to raise the quality of life for all families. In several of those states, access has been expanded and waiting lists reduced or eliminated.

When parents and providers team together, policymakers pay attention. That’s been a missing element in California as the state’s child care network continues to deteriorate. It’s past time to turn that around.

Editor’s Note: Charlotte Neal has been a family child care provider for more than 17 years in Sacramento and is a member of United Domestic Workers of America (CCPU-UDW/AFSCME Local 3930). Ruby Chege depends on Neal’s early childhood education program for her three children.

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