piles of child-sized cloth masks

On July 8th, 2020 The Hechinger Report published an article laying out five problems brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that child care providers are likely to face for months or even years to come. The article then comes to the conclusion that without government investment to overcome these hurdles, it’s unclear how most child care centers and home providers will survive.

We took this article to early childhood expert Dr. Rebecca Swartz, previously the early learning specialist at IECAM’s sister project Illinois Early Learning, and now assistant professor of early childhood education in the department of Teaching and Learning at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and asked her to respond to the article’s assessment and conclusion. Here is what she said:

“The article points out how preschool classrooms are used to subsidize infant-toddler classrooms. However, the reality is that all child care classrooms were always operating under such thin margins with teachers being undervalued economically. It isn’t surprising that the COVID pandemic has brought this problem into the light.

Programs that were once able to retain more qualified staff and provide teacher- child ratios that promote quality were always able to do so because of the patchwork of publicly funded programs that were braided together to create a reasonable level of funding. These programs almost always fund programs on a per-child basis, and when the number of children in the classroom is reduced, so is that funding.

The only way to resolve this issue in the U.S. is to take a hard look at our values surrounding child care access. Do we believe that all children and families have a right to early care and education that is high quality and promotes child development? Then the public must fund early care and education like schools. If we believe all children deserve high quality early care and education, then the teachers who instruct children from birth to age five must be compensated and trained like those teachers who have students from Kindergarten on.

However, it is difficult for our country to get past the fact that early care and education programs, including child care, use up resources. And according to all the research, such as that of Heckman and colleagues, the use of these resources is an investment BUT we have to be patient enough to wait for the long term positive outcome that we won’t see until adulthood. The task ahead for policy makers and advocates for children and families is to build the will of communities to make long term investments in a system of ECE and patiently await the payoffs that will come as  children afforded high quality ECE grow into adulthood and contribute to the overall well being of their communities.”

Thank you Dr. Swartz for this response, and for the reaffirmation of the crucial role early care and education programs play in the well-being of children, families, and entire communities, especially in these challenging times.