A Broad Base is Speaking Up for Child Care

By Christine Johnson-Staub

As a testament to the critical role that child care plays in supporting today’s working families, a diverse array of voices is undertaking an important national conversation on the affordability and accessibility of quality child care. Parents, child care providers, labor union representatives, economic justice advocates, community organizers, early childhood advocates, and other allies are prioritizing the need for high-quality, affordable child care for families, and the importance of quality jobs for caregivers. Conversations over just the past month across the country have offered the opportunity for individuals to share their experiences and perspectives, and for stakeholders to come together to share strategies and identify common priorities:

  • In Lansing at a recent convening organized by Michigan United—with national partners Caring Across Generations, CLASP, Demos, National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Women’s Law Center, and People’s Action—parents from across Michigan talked about the importance of state investment in child care and early education and of making changes to simplify and reform state policies. They cited the complexity of the application process and rigidity of eligibility rules that—as one parent described—result in a mother being turned down for child care assistance because her modest income was $20 too high.
  • In New York, the same group of national partners, working with Citizen Action of New York and other state leaders, convened a group of diverse stakeholders to talk about strategies for strengthening revenue, funding, access, and support for child care workers under the state’s current budgetary and policy constraints. Allison Julien, a caregiver and NDWA member spoke of the stress child care workers face as they raise their own children and simultaneously work ten to twelve-hour days in stressful jobs caring for others’ children. Melissa Reed, a family child care provider, shared that the hardest part of her job is paperwork, and the second hardest part is the paycheck saying, “If you want quality, pay us quality wages.”
  • And in Washington, D.C., CLASP was pleased to participate in the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) National Assembly, where a group of parents, in-home caregivers, and providers emphasized the importance of compensation and job quality. One provider, who has taken care of children for more than two decades, spoke eloquently about the unique needs of each child and family, and the importance of providing child care choices that respect the differences in culture and life experiences.

The challenges voiced in these conversations are shared by individuals across the country, and are exacerbated by additional barriers faced by an increasingly diverse population of children and caregivers. Latino families, in particular, access child care assistance at much lower rates than other families, likely a result of state policies that create hurdles disproportionally impacting particular communities.

It is critical that child care policies and services reflect the nation’s changing demographics and the evolving needs of parents, which include care during non-traditional hours and culturally and linguistically diverse caregivers.

CLASP and its national partners are privileged to be part of the conversation. We are committed to working with state and federal leaders to improve policies, increase investments, and strengthen child care to work for families in poverty. Doing so requires prioritizing the needs of underserved families, including those in racial and ethnic minority communities and immigrant communities. The diversity of voices speaking up for child care brings new momentum to the issue at a time of great urgency.

Child care helps parents work and children learn and grow. Yet, despite child care’s centrality in so many families’ lives and to our country’s prosperity, public investments are limited, forcing low-income families to shoulder enormous cost burdens. A renewed focus—and continued conversation—on child care among an expanding group of allies is needed in this country to put child care front and center as a priority for investment.