5 Critical Needs for Babies in COVID-19: Sustaining Child Care & Early Learning

5 Critical Needs for Babies in COVID-19: Sustaining Child Care & Early Learning

Congress should provide at least $50 billion in dedicated child care funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to ensure essential care now and long-term viability of the broader child care system once this crisis passes. The pandemic has hit the child care system incredibly hard. Many child care providers are closing as the families they serve are losing work, or in the service of public health. Others are being asked to stay open to serve essential workers at the frontlines of this crisis, putting themselves and their families at risk. According to a recent survey of more than 5,000 child care providers by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, nearly half of centers were completely closed and 85 percent were operating at less than half of their enrollment capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses for early educators. Child care will be a foundational necessity for any future economic recovery. Yet, a large percentage of programs that are closing report they may not be able to reopen.

Providers throughout the system, whether serving children with subsidies or private pay, need support to stabilize the industry. The $3.5 billion in supplemental funding the CARES Act provided to CCDBG was an important first step in supporting child care during this crisis, but far more support is needed to meet the multitude of challenges that the system is currently facing - as much as $9.6 billion per month according to one expert analysis. In many parts of the country families already had a difficult time finding affordable high-quality child care. This crisis will only exacerbate that situation.

To stabilize the child care system now and for the future, we recommend Congress provide at least $50 billion in dedicated child care funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Funds should be flexible to address the specific needs of individual communities and providers, while also maintaining critical existing safeguards for children being served, including key health and safety requirements. Activities to ensure child care sustainability include: Covering operating costs for providers, regardless of subsidy status of the children they serve, that are closed or do not have a full complement of children; providing essential duty pay for providers caring for essential workers’ children; providing materials, resources, training, and other public health supports regarding health and safety practices; covering parents’ costs when they are not able to pay; and, providing mental health supports for children and families.

Some segments of the child care system, such as some family child care and family, friend, and neighbor providers, require special efforts to reach. State agencies should ensure they reach these providers as well, including sending funding to the local level, through early childhood councils or entities such as Resource and Referral Agencies and Staffed Family Child Care Networks to quickly and efficiently reach home-based providers to help them stay afloat.

Congress should provide an additional $1 billion to expand Early Head Start to reach more economically distressed families being plunged into poverty and $250 million to support flexible options for providing services. Head Start and Early Head Start programs are on the frontlines of outreach to families most vulnerable to the economic and social impact of the pandemic and its aftermath. The economic impact will surely increase the number of babies and toddlers in poverty, with families struggling to get back on their feet. Early Head Start can be an effective disaster mitigation tool for low-income families with infants and toddlers, both now and particularly once the crisis passes. We recommend that Congress seize this opportunity to provide an additional $1 billion to expand Early Head Start and include that funding in base grants, with a commitment to continue this investment in regular appropriations cycles, to ensure this center of strength for more families in the most precarious financial situation.

Fatimah, an Early Head Start mom from Dover, DE is experiencing this firsthand: “Due to COVID-19, my employer shut down. I am unable to collect unemployment benefits because I had not completed the probationary period. The fear of running out of food, not being able to pay utilities has made our lives more complex as days progress. Having to depend upon state assistance (TANF) for cash isn’t really enough to make it past the first week of the month. Praying that this pandemic will pass soon, so that I am able to get back to work to be self-sufficient for my family.”

We also recommend an additional $250 million to expand comprehensive services, where programs wish to increase their offerings. The Office of Head Start is allowing great flexibility for programs, which will become increasingly important as COVID-19 proliferates to help Head Start/Early Head Start families access comprehensive support services, especially referral to essential nutrition, health, and mental health services, even as program sites close to mitigate the spread of the disease. Considering the breadth of the pandemic, it is likely that program funds will be stretched thin, muting the potential impact of this flexibility without additional federal funds being made available. While the CARES Act provided increased funds for Head Start, the bulk of those funds were directed toward summer programs primarily needed by preschool Head Start and the remainder will be needed for cleaning and other pandemic-related maintenance.

Congress should provide an increase of $500 million for Early Intervention through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities continue to need early intervention services throughout this crisis to ensure their development stays on track. In addition, Part C could see an uptick in children needing and qualifying for early intervention services as a result of disruptions in their early care and learning programs. The early interventionist serves as a support for the family as well. Continued services through a virtual platform serves as a point of contact with a family that may be isolated, as well as therapy for their baby or toddler. Such contact is important, because children with disabilities are at higher risk for child maltreatment.

An additional $500 million for Part C of IDEA would cover the costs of items related to the virtual delivery of services, but also to respond to already occurring cuts in state and local budgets, which often cover early intervention costs. In addition, some of the innovative approaches states are using with virtual tele-intervention may not be reimbursed by existing funding sources like insurance or Medicaid, and additional federal funds could ensure that babies and toddlers can continue to receive these critical developmental services. Finally, the need of infants and toddlers to be evaluated and receive services does not pause because of the pandemic. States and local programs are working every day to accept new referrals, evaluate and assess children, and work with their families to provide services as best they can virtually.