Child Care Coronavirus Recovery Conversations: Equitable Approaches to Elevating Parent Voices

By Alycia Hardy

I never imagined working from home like this: full time with my two kids, twice a week with my two nieces, while my sister and husband risk their health as essential workers during a global pandemic. Yet, my child care experience pales in comparison to the anxiety and frustration of families with low incomes and limited options. Access to high-quality child care, particularly for families with low incomes, has always been a challenge. The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more challenging. Unfortunately, child care has been meagerly funded in relief bills. As a result, many programs have been forced to close and will likely never reopen, leaving parents and other caregivers with even fewer options. As states begin to lift restrictions and families return to work, decisionmakers must develop policy solutions that appropriately respond to the diverse range of family needs. The strategies below will aid policymakers in engaging communities and collecting data to equitably incorporate diverse parent voices and better inform child care policies.

Overall, policymakers must recognize how the difficulties of navigating this new child care landscape will be compounded for families with low incomes. These difficulties will be even more challenging for families harmed by systemic barriers related to race, ethnicity, language, and ability. Black, Latinx, and Native American families have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus, with disproportionate rates of death, unemployment, hunger, and housing insecurity. Families with low incomes may face challenges returning to work, including increased coronavirus exposure; fewer health care options; reduced transportation; and economic instability. Accessing affordable, safe, quality child care must not be an additional challenge. States must implement policies addressing a variety of needs across communities, particularly for people who have been historically underserved.  

The first, most critical step states can take in meeting families’ diverse needs is to let their voices inform policy solutions in an equitable way. In data collection, states should avoid primarily using convenience sampling to gauge child care needs. This limited method of only collecting data from families who are already accessing government resources misrepresents the full range of families’ needs. It excludes many families who lack knowledge of, feel discouraged from, or were previously ineligible for government supports. A history of mistrust, resulting from government agencies’ longstanding mistreatment of communities of color, further exacerbates the shortcomings of convenience sampling.

States can equitably gather the full range of family child care needs by:

  • Expanding data collection methods to include surveys, focus groups, and community mapping
  • Using multiple languages, technologies, accessibility supports, and engagement strategies
  • Developing partnerships between government agencies, trusted community groups, and parent-led organizations to assist with collecting data, elevating parent voices, and informing families of available options
  • Oversampling underserved communities to gather insights that would ordinarily be seen as too small to report
  • Disaggregating data by race and ethnicity, ability, employment sector, age, and income to understand the multiple factors that shape family child care needs, also known as intersectionality

In addition, policymakers must ensure parents have a variety of child care options beyond traditional child care centers. These care arrangements can include relative care, family friend and neighbor (FFN) providers, and licensed family child care homes. States must also sufficiently fund those options.

Failing to implement policies that equitably incorporate parent voices and meet diverse needs will devastate many families. Maintaining this status quo will especially harm people with low incomes and families of color. It will also undermine the public health and economic recovery now and into the future. I’m fortunate that my family and I are piecing together an arrangement that works. But not all families are able to do that. We need policymakers to be intentional about using more inclusive data collection and community engagement practices to ensure a variety of parent voices are at the center of legislative decisions so resulting policies offer child care options that meet everyone’s needs.