THE BLOG
10/27/2016 04:04 pm ET

A Call To Arms For Child Care!

I have been thoroughly pissed off for 44 years.

I suggest we celebrate National Work and Family Month by everybody getting mad, manning the barricades, and demanding an end to the foolishness of our elected leaders in not supporting the positive development of the next generation of American children!

Here is the source of my 44 years of anger: In 1972 Richard Nixon vetoed a bill that was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. This bill, The Comprehensive Child Development Act, would have provided billions of dollars for a system of high quality, affordable, locally administered, child care programs so that mothers could work. It was bi-partisan legislation! Nixon vetoed it saying it would weaken the American family and foster a communal approach to child-rearing. You know, Communism was the bogey-man of the day.

Never mind the fact that the US had had a system of child care during World War II so that mothers could work. It wasn't called un-American then! But that system was dismantled after the war, never to be resurrected. Thank you Nixon...and thank you, notorious Pat Buchanan! Oh, how my blood pressure is rising, just writing this.

So ever since, we have been grappling with a non-system, a patchwork of poor quality child care programs (with a small percentage of real shining stars), a state by state grab bag - lucky you if you live in New York; too bad if you live in Nebraska.

Parents looking for affordable, quality child care in the 1980s had a big job. It was almost impossible to find. Parents looking for affordable, quality child care in 2016 have a big job. It is almost impossible to find. This New Republic article sums up the problems and tragedies: https://newrepublic.com/article/112892/hell-american-day-care

The late, great Gwen Morgan coined the term trilemma back in 1990. She was referring the problem of quality, staff compensation, and affordability. Increase one and the others get worse, especially affordability vs compensation and quality, which are often related. Has this trilemma been solved in the ensuing 25 years? Can I shout NO loud enough?

Ok. Ok. A bunch of good stuff has happened for sure, and I will note that for you. But c'mon! For the average family, it is very difficult to find a child care opening in a high quality program that is affordable. This was true 44 years ago, 34 years ago, 24 years ago, 14 years ago, and it is (sigh) still very true today.
But the advocates and policy-makers over the decades deserve a lot of credit for their stamina and their successes. Successes: Child Care and Development Block Grant, and its Child Care Development Fund, added money for affordability and quality; NAEYC accreditation system defined quality and raised the bar; employer-supported child care programs are usually higher quality; QRIS (many states have Quality Rating and Improvement Systems) defined quality and raised the bar; Head Start and Early Head Start have been strengthened and expanded; economists understand the ROI (return on investment) studies and therefore are pushing for quality early childhood programs; child care tax credits and tax exclusion for employer flexible spending accounts were instituted; social impact bonds are a new way to add more funding to programs that have proven quality outcomes; and research on brain development definitively has proven the importance of quality child care. All these initiatives are very meaningful, but even together they do not provide quality, affordable child care for the majority of families that need it.

Here's the thing, though. There are some options for children in very low income families because of Head Start and child care subsidies - although still not enough. There are some options for children in high-income families because of employer supports for child care and the simple fact that these families can spend more money. But once again, the middle class is squeezed out - not many options that are not very affordable. The great divide rears its ugly head in yet another aspect of our society.

We have made progress. And those who have been fighting for that progress are real heroes. But jeez! Have we made 44 years of progress? C'mon. We are the only industrialized country without cohesive and consistent policy and programs for child care.

Need more fodder for fury? The British medical journal, The Lancet, has quantified the high cost of in-action when we don't provide developmentally appropriate environments for young children to thrive in. Economist James Heckman has quantified the ROI of investment in early childhood education (starting with infants) and has identified these investments as a means to "reduce deficits and strengthen the economy". So in addition to early childhood professionals' lobbying for high quality programs for young children, we have physicians, economists, and even police pushing for funding and quality standards. But still the needle moves at a snail's pace.

Grab your arms (your words, your letters, emails, and tweets, your votes)! The goal is affordable, available, and by all means, high quality child care for every family that needs it. From infants through school age. With teachers and staff who are properly compensated for the essential and extremely important work they do. Improvements have been piecemeal for 44 years. Enough!

We know how to do this. The research is clear about quality and affordability. The problem is there is not enough money in the "system". Teachers and staff are way underpaid; training is inadequate; facilities are not optimal. This is true for child care centers and for family child care homes. We need significantly more federal money added to the funding mix with quality requirements attached. We need the political will to do this.

90% of brain development takes place by age 5. That's only 1,826 days to nurture a child to develop fully. A day in the life of a young child is a jewel. It is filled with facets of discovery and understanding. It should be filled with facets of growing self-confidence and feelings of being loved. A day wasted in a negative environment or even a somewhat adequate environment can never be regained. It is gone; it is a lost opportunity with real consequences.

Who will dare say that there are more important things than the well-being of our young children? Who can in good conscience say that? I dare you!

Parents and grandparents: It is up to us. Professionals have worked on this for well over 44 years. They have done good; but not enough good has been done. You, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, you need to join the child care revolution. We need millions of voices shouting at the top of our lungs about this problem. Shout loudly for bringing high quality, affordable child care to every locality. This is a call to arms (verbal arms)!

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