The Highs and Lows of Early Education and Child Care

CLASP is pleased to feature this guest blog post by Joan Lombardi, a national and international expert on early childhood who served most recently as the first Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interagency Liaison for Early Childhood Development in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2009-2011.

Interest in early education is at an all-time high. From coast to coast, state budgets for preschool have started to move in the right direction. And we are all still celebrating the terrific federal budget victory of more than $1 billion for Early Head Start-Child care partnerships, preschool, and other investments that should continue to grow.

Yet last week’s report by Hannah Matthews and Stephanie Schmit, CLASP’s child care experts, highlights some sobering facts that working families face every day. Child care spending and participation in 2012 was at an all-time low. Spending fell to a 10-year low, and the number of children receiving assistance from the child care and development fund (CCDF) fell to a 14-year low.

It is time for a reality check. Families cannot make this all work for themselves or their children when they face child care shortages and funding going in the wrong direction. Lack of child care assistance keeps parents out of work, increasing poverty which in turn affects child development. Lack of child care assistance hampers the ability of child care programs to attract and support qualified staff, undermining important efforts underway to move towards higher standards. Lack of child care assistance puts potential partnerships in jeopardy, making it difficult to provide the quality full-day services that address the needs of both children and their parents.

Child care is a core part of the early education system. Since children are learning all the time, the child care setting where they may spend 30 to 40 hours a week has an impact on their early learning. Good care is early education. We can’t let the different signs over the program door provide an excuse for not investing.

Gone are the “recovery days” that brought us significant new investments. Without replenishment, both children and families lose critical opportunities. We need to recognize that families continue to be overwhelmed by rising costs and stagnant salaries. Child care assistance is often the foundation upon which we build the early education house. Let’s make it stronger so families can work and young children can learn.