Child care and early childhood education systems must serve and meet the diverse needs of all families

When families do not have access to child care, women leave their careers to care for their children. The forced exit from the workforce is particularly notable among women of color, mainly Black and Latinas, who are already more likely to face economic hardships. This means that Latino and Black families with children are experiencing three or more hardships at nearly twice the rate of their White and Asian counterparts (13% and 16%, respectively).

Child care has always been essential, playing a critical role in serving families and keeping our economy running. COVID-19 has served to shed light on this fact. Despite this, the pandemic has also exposed the immutable view that women of color are expendable employees during an economic downturn. Without investment in our child care systems to support women and families, this trend can only continue.

Over the last four years, California has conducted two large-scale research projects to design an accessible, affordable, and comprehensive child care system that meets all family needs and pays providers an equitable wage for their vital work: The Assembly’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education and the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care; yet, despite these estimates, there are only $55 million in dedicated one-time, new general fund dollars to child care in the 2021-2022 budget. As we enter a post-pandemic normal, failing to invest in child care will exacerbate child care closures and take a disproportionate economic toll on the child care community.

Overwhelmingly made up of Black, Latina, and immigrant women, California’s child care system has for decades persistently functioned in low-wage survival mode, with the system as a whole long operating on razor-thin margins and providers barely making ends meet–even before COVID-19. In keeping with status quo wages and reimbursements, we are forcing our child care providers to spend too much time advocating to bring their reimbursement rates up to federally required levels. In ignoring the research, we perpetuate an untenable career choice, as well as a broken system that hurts families, children, and early education professionals.

To close the gap between the current budget and the State’s goals for the child care system. A long-term investment is needed:

● Establish comprehensive access to child care, in particular, the 0-3 segment of the system;
● Elevate the need for comprehensive services addressing the whole child;
● Reform our reimbursement rate structures;
● Address the ongoing costs of current and future child care facilities;
● Increase funding for early educator professional development and training; and
● Adopt reforms for a family-focused system.

Child care is vital for working families to thrive; it is an essential element in the future of the California economy. It is critical to strengthen and expand a comprehensive child care system that is accessible, affordable, equitable, meets families’ needs, and pays providers a living wage.