Beyond Appreciation…Gratitude for our Nation’s Child Care Providers

Editor’s note: In honor of Provider Appreciation Day, today’s post shares a personal account of how Lynette’s child care provider supported her son and family in a time of crisis.

It was a few days after my son’s second birthday. The day began, hurried as most and late as usual. I was doing my best to reach the office by 9AM.  I hadn’t quite mastered the art of juggling of work and parenthood (Do we ever? Perhaps that’s a question for another blog). But, I remember enjoying our time together after settling into the car for our 20 minute commute to his child care provider. It was our special time…talking and singing to our favorite music on the radio.

My search for a child care provider was typical of many….looking through lists, asking lots of questions, and trying to find the right person to partner with in the nurturing of my son while his father and I were at work.  With extended family on the opposite coast, we desperately needed and depended on the right person.  After two months, we found her.  The sleepless nights were over and I began to breathe again.

This particular morning went smoothly.  I arrived at her home, chatted a few minutes about how my son interacted the previous night and about our morning commute.  I gave him a big kiss good-bye and was off to the second phase of my trip to work.  I  enjoyed my daily ride on the Metro; it provided helpful transition time to recalibrate from being a mommy to a manager. Crossing the river from Virginia to DC was a symbolic bridge between family and work.

When I arrived to the office emotions were running high.  I had no idea what was going on.  A group of my colleagues were gathered around a workstation with the radio on.  There had been a plane; it hit a tower in Manhattan. Soon a plane would hit the Pentagon…very close to home.  It was about 9:20 AM,  September 11, 2001.

The rest of the day was a blur.  The phones weren’t working, and we couldn’t reach anyone.  The trains were shut down, and there was no way to get back across the river into Virginia.  There were rumors of more attacks, explosions, threats.  I couldn’t reach my son.  I couldn’t reach him…

After what seemed like days, I finally was able to reach her.  She was so calm, so reassuring.  “He’s fine, don’t worry,” she said. ” We are all playing and eating and we are fine.  He is safe and loved.”

At that moment, when I needed her most, when he needed her most, during one of the most challenging days in our nation’s history, my child care provider held both my son and I in her heart and in her arms.

I finally made it to her home and to my son several hours later.  He was happy, safe and sound. That night I put my son to bed squeezing him tight and holding him for hours.

I will always remember the feeling of not being able to reach him at a moment of crisis; to hold and protect him.  I will always be grateful for the woman who welcomed us into her home and family and who we welcomed into ours.

The effects of that September day lasted for weeks, months, and for many of us, for years. Now 14 years old, my son still talks about her. It is clear she made such an impact on him.  Mostly he remembers the nurturance, care and affection she provided him. For that I am forever grateful.

On this Provider Appreciation Day I hope everyone says a word of gratitude to the special child care provider in their life.  I still do!

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Provider Appreciation Day: A call for pay, preparation and promotion of our early childhood educators

Provider Appreciation Day Logo

May 9 is the day we celebrate our nation’s child care providers, early childhood educators and teachers. And while we celebrate, we also must reflect on how we acknowledge their commitment to children through pay, professional preparation, and promotion of the field as an essential driver supporting the healthy development of children.

Low pay, big responsibilities
We know child care providers don’t get paid a lot. But previous statistics like those from Georgetown University’s Center on Education which show an early childhood education degree among the least lucrative of all college majors, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s report that the median pay for child care providers was $9.30 per hour in 2012, still shock me.  It is so critical that our nation’s providers and early childhood educators get the professional preparation they want and deserve in the classroom, either through higher education or in professional preparation training programs.

Subsiding child care costs
Child care providers are essentially subsidizing the cost of child care with their paychecks.  Even with such low provider wages, families pay a lot for child care. Child care costs eat up a larger percent of a family’s budget – rocketing from two percent of the cost to raise a child in 1960 to 18 percent in 2012. Child care and education, not including college, costs families more than healthcare and food, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report on the cost of raising a child.  Our cost of child care report showed the average cost of child care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.  Two children in child care? That can cost you more than a mortgage in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Quality suffers
But the biggest loser in this low pay and high cost equation is quality. Studies and stories have proven that quality costs money and that quality is worth the upfront investment, returning at a rate of as much as 15 percent, according to economist James Heckman. Supporting our early childhood providers and educators with a living wage and professional ongoing support is essential to delivering quality as well. When child care providers leave the profession because of low pay, the turnover affects a child’s education, and we lose great educators.

Solutions
One solution to a quality child care system that supports child care providers and families would be to diversify the financial support for child care so all children can access quality care no matter their family’s ability to pay.

Join us in honoring those who teach, nurture and care for our children on May 9, and remember they too need our support all year round.  What other solutions would you suggest?