Re-imagining our Child Care System
Childcare is a two-generation workforce issue, with access to high-quality childcare being crucial to supporting a highly skilled workforce and vital to developing our workforce of tomorrow. Child Care Aware of America® explored the childcare landscape in their report, The US and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System. They discovered our current system is:
- Fragmented: Each state has its own set of childcare policies and funding operations.
- Inequitable: Children of color and children from low-income families are less likely to attend high-quality childcare programs.
- Inaccessible: For many families, high-quality childcare is not an option. There are not enough childcare providers to meet the demand, and providers are leaving the field in record numbers. This particularly affects families of color, families living in rural areas, and children with special needs.
- Underfunded: The U.S. spends less than 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product on childcare — far less than most industrialized countries.
Childcare Challenges Specific to the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose the fragility of the American childcare system. But rather than letting the pandemic further shatter the system, COVID-19 can be used as a catalyst for re-imagining our childcare system. As we look forward to a post-COVID future, it is necessary to create sustainable solutions to respond to the inadequacies in our childcare system, both for families and businesses. And, with 50 percent of working parents who have not yet returned to work citing childcare as a reason, reconceptualization is more important than ever.
Public-Private Partnerships Creating Innovative Solutions
Public-private partnerships, like those between Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) and chambers of commerce, and the fruits of their collaboration can serve as prime examples of innovative solutions. Moreover, the solutions created between their collaboration have been particularly necessary during the pandemic.
For example, at the beginning of the pandemic childcare centers in Lawrence, Kansas, were struggling to locate cleaning supplies, such as hand sanitizer, they needed to safely operate. A solution was formed through a partnership between Child Care Aware® of Eastern Kansas and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, who heard about the need facing childcare centers in their community, reached out to the Kansas University School of Pharmacy, who had the capability and willingness to produce the much-needed hand sanitizer. The Child Care Aware® staff reached out to every licensed childcare program in the community to gather information about their needs, and, with permission, shared that data and the program addresses with the School of Pharmacy. This collaborative effort provided 38 childcare programs with free supplies of hand sanitizer, serving 243 children in the community.
Looking to the future, if the COVID-19 pandemic is not used as a catalyst to re-imagine our current childcare system, it will remain fragmented, inequitable, inaccessible and underfunded. But there is hope. With 92 percent of CCR&Rs already participating in partnerships or initiatives to identify and develop strategies to address gaps in services and systems, there is already an established framework for collaboration that can meet the needs of communities nationwide.
Moreover, with more than 400 agency locations nationwide, CCR&R agencies are able to reach and meet the needs of historically under-resourced communities. With most childcare deserts existing in low-and middle-income communities, including predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods and rural America, collaborations between CCR&R agencies and chambers of commerce may provide those communities with the increased access to high-quality childcare programs they need. These partnerships would be able to increase access through providing parents with information about childcare options, working directly with families who receive assistance or have other unique needs, and ensuring childcare programs have the tools they need to provide high-quality care.
It is possible to pick up the pieces of a broken system, piece by piece, and build the equitable, robust system our workforce deserves.