Editorial: Expanding child care will reap benefits
The Virginian-Pilot |
Sep 13, 2020 at 6:15 PM
In this May 27, 2020 photo, Aaron Rainboth, a teacher at the Frederickson KinderCare daycare center in Tacoma, Wash., wears a mask as he takes the temperature of Benjamin Simpson, 4, after he complained of feeling hot following an outdoor play period, but found it to be normal. In a world weary of the coronavirus, many working parents with young children are now struggling with the decision on when or how they'll be comfortable returning to their child care providers. Frederickson KinderCare, which has been open throughout the pandemic to care for children of essential workers, removed carpets and spaced out tables and chairs as part of their measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/AP)
We don’t have to tell any working parent that America’s system of child care — if something so haphazard can be called a “system” — has been pushed to the breaking point by the coronavirus pandemic.
Parents are understandably focused on the need for some solution that will let them hold onto their jobs without neglecting their children, including their children’s education.
That need is real and urgent, and no effort should be spared to find workable solutions.
But the crisis the pandemic triggered is also evidence of a fragile system that’s strained even in better times. Quick fixes can help, but there’s obviously a need for more permanent, far-reaching changes.
No one was prepared when Virginians began to realize in March that the pandemic was here, not just in the news. When schools closed, working parents scrambled. Many day cares closed too, making matters worse.
School systems and teachers stepped up, some making heroic efforts to move classes online and help children finish the school year. But that put more of the burden on parents.
Some parents found themselves telecommuting. They were home to care for children and supervise studies, but many were doubly stressed, trying to tend to children while getting their own work done.
Now it’s six months later, and most schools have reopened only virtually, or with a hybrid system.
It’s tougher to find good day care. The state Department of Social Services says that about a third of licensed providers have closed, cutting more than 40% of available day care slots.
Many parents have been summoned back to work. Some are close to the breaking point.
School systems are under pressure to reopen more fully, even though COVID cases among children have been on the rise and many colleges that resumed in-person classes have closed again. Much of that pressure comes from parents who are at their wits' end about how to supervise their children while meeting the demands of their own jobs.
Some community organizations including the YMCA of South Hampton Roads, Champions and the Boys and Girls Club have admirably stepped up to help with online learning and day care.
Things are still tough for working parents — and things won’t be much better for many working parents even after the pandemic eases and schools return to something like normal.
The United States trails most other developed countries in policies and programs to help working parents. It’s one of the few countries that don’t mandate some paid maternity leave for working mothers.
Many countries provide for paid parental leave for some situations; the United States offers 12 weeks of unpaid family leave for some workers, but most can’t afford to lose the income. Most wealthy countries do a lot more. In some European countries, publicly supported child care is almost universal.
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Those countries that invest in parental leave and child care recognize that these programs help build strong families, a stronger workforce and a better society. We should recognize that, too.
The days when women worked outside the home only by choice are history. Today, most couples with children both have jobs, and families need the dual income. Today, there are many more single-parent homes, with about a fourth of American children being raised by single mothers.
Even before the pandemic, many families had a hard time finding reliable, affordable child care. Sometimes one parent’s income is barely enough to cover child care, but that parent works in hopes of building for the future.
There are stay-at-home dads, but women still have the great majority of child-care responsibilities. The pandemic has intensified the struggles working mothers have as they try to manage family responsibilities and compete in their careers — or keep a job.
The pandemic has showed us just how fragile child care in America is. The current crisis grew out of a system that’s woefully inadequate. We should take this opportunity to make changes creatively and for the long haul.