The Hell (and Hope for) American Daycare: A National Economic Issue, Not Just a Women’s Issue
The above link takes you to a New America podcast that delves further into the dismal state of American child care and continues the conversation about potential strategies to improve our early education system more broadly. Despite inadequacies, panelists from the New America Foundation’s Hell of American Daycare event last week express hope in the podcast for the prospect of reform. Reid Cramer, director of the Asset Building Program at New America, emphasizes, “When you have dual generation strategies [for reform], there are payoffs down the line — payoffs to the economy, not just the family and the child.”
In the Education Watch Podcast, Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, which focuses on elevating the dialogue about early childhood education, speaks with 2 of the panelists from last week’s event, Jonathan Cohn and Brigid Schulte. Their respective research concerning the safety of child care and the unavailability of quality care is highlighted in the podcast. The fact that improving safety and access are the bare minimum for child care expectations was also emphasized. Cohn expressed optimism when he said “in some ways, it’s the least controversial part.” Schulte “agreed that giving a child the best education in the best environment is something we can all agree upon and support.”
Cohn and Schulte’s hopefulness, paired with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ announcement of a new proposal last Thursday to: 1) strengthen safety requirements for child care centers, as well as 2) update policies to streamline access, leaves me with a positive, yet guarded, feeling. HHS’s efforts to increase safety and access and President Obama’s focus on the quality in early learning are certainly two pieces of the puzzle to be optimistic about in terms of meeting the needs of some children. But, the fact remains that improving safety and access will only affect those in government-subsidized child care settings and low-income families who qualify for child-care subsidies. The Administration’s focus only addresses the needs of Pre-Kindergarteners. The effects of the initial stages of the conversation about American daycare simply will not be far-reaching enough.
I can’t begin to fathom how many children 0-3 years old will continue to be unprepared for school and life as a direct function of the inadequate care and brain stimulation they receive. Too many will continue to be cared for in unacceptable environments by unqualified, poorly trained care providers in non-government subsidized child care settings. Too many children will be in “safe” child care settings, but won’t receive adequate brain stimulation due to being plopped in front of a TV for hours on end, provided food that is non-nutritional for brain growth and development, or given toys that are not developmentally appropriate for early learning. Countless other children will be safe as well, but will not be engaged consistently by a nurturing care provider who knows how to build the self-esteem, self-discipline and self-motivation needed for today’s classrooms. Every day infants and toddlers attend “play-based” centers that are clean, safe and well-staffed, but children are not learning crucial language, emotional, social and sensory skills needed for school readiness because as long as children in these centers look like they are “playing” or having fun with developmentally appropriate toys, the staff is trained (and parents are led) to believe that school readiness learning is happening.
It is my firm belief that until children 0-3 years old, regardless of their race, gender, socio-economic level, or family background, are valued for the amazing, intelligent beings that they are and cared for and stimulated appropriately by informed, nurturing, loving adults, all we can really do is hope. Hope is important, but I urge everyone, whether they have children or not, to be active participants in the conversation and the changes afoot for the benefit of all American children, families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities, our national economy, and our society as a whole.