Nourishing our Child Care Workforce
Child care providers are struggling. While the past two years have seen some unprecedented investments through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to address challenges presented by the pandemic, data continues to show that long-term under funding has weakened these vital programs for children and families. President Biden identified the importance of investing in child care, highlighting the tremendous need for investment during his State of the Union.
During National Nutrition Month®, which is celebrated each March, I cannot help but think about the specific nutrition security challenges facing the child care providers and educators, who are among the lowest paid US workers. A recent news article put this challenge front and center, noting that one-third of child care providers have faced food insecurity over the past year. In addition, over half of child care workers are on government assistance. These findings, from a study by the Center for Early Childhood Innovation at South Side Early Learning Center, also highlighted disparities in food security. Black child care workers represented about 16% of the sample but they represented over 28% of those reporting high to very high food insecurity.
Advocacy groups are taking notice. “This reinforces the need for new data that focuses on the children in child care and also to learn about nutrition security of the caregivers themselves,” said Blythe Thomas, Initiative Director of 1,000 Days, an initiative of FHI Solutions.
It is heartening to see the awareness and increased attention to infrastructure needs in the child care sector, but this vital business cannot survive if we do not support the workforce. This includes:
Increasing wages and benefits for child care providers.
Facilitating access to nutrition assistance programs and streamlining application processes.
Providing tuition assistance to support career advancement and reduced burden of training costs.
Acknowledging many child care providers as small business owners and prioritizing these business owners for small business supports and grants.
These strategies all require increased federal, state and local investment. The sense of urgency is real. Caron Gremont Director, Early Childhood at Share Our Strength, summed it up, “It is unconscionable that the women who are working to take care of our kids cannot afford to take care of themselves. We must do better.”