The following is a guest post from 4C’s Director of Kentucky Services Julie Witten.
“Fund Kids First!” was the rallying cry on January 16 at the annual Children’s Advocacy Day in Frankfort, Kentucky. Close to a thousand advocates from across the state descended on the Capitol for a rally and legislative meetings in support of children’s issues. I go to this event every year, but this year was different.
It was different for me because I have felt passionate that something must be done about the cuts to the child care assistance program in Kentucky that went into effect last April. Over the past year I have heard devastating stories of how the cuts have negatively impacted families and child care centers. Child care assistance gives working families a leg up, so they can get and keep jobs and work their way toward self-sufficiency. The cuts have meant that families already struggling to make ends meet have had to choose between work or reliable child care. I wanted to fight this, and so have many others!
This is the point where I should tell you that there is a silver lining to this story. I promise!
But first, let’s go back to the Capitol for a minute. Children’s Advocacy Day is coordinated by Kentucky Youth Advocates, the only multi-issue statewide children’s advocacy organization in Kentucky. Amongst 4C for Children’s top priorities is advocating for policies that support the healthy development of young children. This, along with our work of improving quality in child care centers and supporting the families of young children make up 4C’s three-pronged approach to improve outcomes for all young children in our region.
There was an air of excitement as we walked into the Capitol. I could feel the energy pulsing from the rotunda, where people had started gathering. With my talking points under one arm and my “fund kids first” foam finger under the other, I walked to our first appointment. I was accompanied by 4C Board members and a child care director, representing important perspectives on this issue. We had meetings with eight different legislators from the House and Senate. I was overjoyed that all of them understood the issue and felt that it was important, even though some would need more convincing on where the funding might come from.
Meeting with the legislators that day was a pre-emptive strategy to increase their understanding of the child care assistance issue prior to the Governor’s budget proposal. We had heard that to Governor would reverse the cuts in his budget, but we had to get members of the House and Senate behind us so they would preserve that area of the budget when it reached the legislature. We told stories, shared facts on the benefits of quality early education, and waved our foam fingers through our eight meetings and a rally with the Governor.
On January 21, Governor Steve Beshear addressed the Kentucky legislature and the citizens of the Commonwealth and presented his budget. Spoiler alert, he has proposed full reinstatement of the child care assistance program. He also presented unprecedented investments in education, now making a name for himself as the “Children’s Governor”. This is great news!
But our work is not finished. The budget will face scrutiny in both the House and Senate, so we will keep up the fight.
So now you may be thinking, “Well this all sounds great, but will it make a difference?” I have to think it will, because the alternative is just depressing. We wouldn’t be where we are now, if it hadn’t been for the collaborative efforts of organizations, child care programs, and parents over the past year. Best of all, there is a super simple way that you can help: join Kentucky’s Voice for Early Childhood and respond to the action alerts. You’ll be in very good company, over 1,000 messages were sent to legislators just last week.
The future of Kentucky depends on children getting a solid start. I’m fighting for the future, are you?
Is there an echo here? In May of this year, 4C issued a report entitled “The High Cost of Child Care: A Challenge for Working Families.” The 4C report focused on data from Greater Cincinnati, Greater Dayton and Northern Kentucky and concluded that the high cost of child care is a barrier to employment for many parents and a significant financial burden for all but the most affluent.
On Nov. 4 Child Care Aware® of America issued a report on the cost of child care across the country. This is their seventh such review, and this year’s report does not paint a pretty picture. Nationally, child care costs more than the entire family’s food budget, more than housing, more than college.
Child Care Aware® of America (which is the national membership organization for agencies like ours and a collector of local data—including ours) hit at the dilemma that is so apparent to us as well: child care must not be seen simply as someplace safe for the kiddies while parents are at work, but also as essential to a strong economy.
According to this new report:
Governors and legislators, law enforcement officials and business leaders see quality early care and education as vital to the nation’s economy and security. Military leaders found that 75 percent of young adults are not qualified to join the military due to failure to graduate high school; a criminal record; or physical fitness issues, including obesity. They concluded that America needs early care and education to ensure national security because each of the issues that are decreasing readiness are improved by quality early learning programs.
Child care—whatever you call it—day care, preschool, pre-K—is where the majority of American children are getting their first “school” experiences.
So what should it cost? An even better question is who should pay for it? I would contend that even though child care is largely unaffordable for most but the wealthiest families, it doesn’t cost enough! Teachers are poorly paid and thus are, in essence, further subsidizing the cost. The cost to provide the level of early education that will prepare children for school and the workforce cannot fall solely on parents. Parents don’t bear the financial burden for K-12 education, and most students and/or their parents don’t pay the full cost of college. Since nearly the founding of our country, we have understood that an educated populous benefits every one of us, and thus we spread the cost to everyone through taxes.
So what does the new report tell us? Right here in our communities and across the nation, child care is hugely expensive for most families. But since we know for a fact that high quality early education is the best strategy to ensure a ready child, ready community and ready workforce, when are we going to finance child care and pre-K in a way that works for us all?
Today’s guest post comes from 4C Board Chair Davida Gable.
There is a silent workforce in our country that has often gone unnoticed. I affectionately call them Car Seat Grandmas. These grandmas have proper car seats hooked into the LATCH system in the back of their cars at all times, ready to glide into the pediatrician’s parking lot with only ten minutes notice. School staff members recognize them, and they already know the directions and days of the week for after-school activities.
I have awesome parents and parents-in-law. I really do. They are cool, hip, active and travel the world… from international locations to the banks of the Ohio River. I praise the skies that my daughters have such fabulous examples of how people can live to the fullest into their sixties and seventies and beyond.
The downside of having cool, hip, active and world-travelling parents is that they are busy with cool, hip activities and travelling the world. When my water broke before the birth of our second child, my Tender Loving Husband called his parents on the way to the hospital, to see if they could take our older daughter for a couple hours. We didn’t even have time to put on her shoes!
“We’re sorry. We can’t because we have a tennis match this evening.”
“Well, can you cancel?”
“You can’t cancel on DOUBLES!”
Following the emergency caesarian section surgery, they called to say they could help since the match got rained out.
While I personally lacked a reliable Car Seat Grandma, in the United States recent Census data revealed that grandparents were the primary source of child care for 30 percent of working women with children under the age of five. 30 percent! I bet these grandparents had car seats in the back of their cars. More importantly, when 30 percent of working women with children under of the age of five need their mothers’ help to maintain employment, it’s clear our society has not addressed the need for affordable, high-quality early child care. Our collective dependence on this group of women – many of whom stayed home to raise their own children – means that our society has been avoiding reconciling women’s desire to pursue careers with an adequate supply of child care.
The most famous Car Seat Grandma of all is our current Grandmother-in-Chief Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s mother who moved to Washington DC with the family to help with the girls. Even new mother Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer had her mother living with the family following the birth of her new son. No wonder it’s been so “easy” for her.
The New York Times in late 2012 declared, “The Ultimate Amenity: Grandparents”:
“The win-win is to have the grandparents live close, but not live with,” said Esther Rein, a Corcoran Group agent, whose client Barbara Yastine just spent $875,000 for a sun-filled co-op with a terrace in a full-service complex hard by the condo where she lives with her husband and their 8-year-old twin daughters. The co-op’s intended resident is her mother, Ann Yastine.
Its next-door locale, not an accident, ensures that the twins can dash down the sidewalk to visit their grandmother without having to cross a street when she moves in next month; conversely, if grandma wants to pop over for a quick visit, the commute is obstacle-free.”
We can’t all afford to move our grandparents to the house next door, but there are many families who rely on them to help out at home. 4C knows the reality behind parents’ child care options. I have seen the 4C professionals share their distress at the mention of cut Social Security benefits, knowing that many Social Security beneficiaries are a crucial child care resource which allows parents to pursue their careers. That’s what I love about 4C… they know the whole picture… including the existence of Car Seat Grandmas.
A number of articles in the national media (New York Times and Slate) are confirming what 4C presented in its white paper earlier this summer—that child care is not affordable for any but the wealthiest among us. The report, entitled The High Cost of Child Care: The Challenge for Working Families points out that child care costs more than public college tuition and that financial assistance is becoming harder to get—for increasingly lower income families. In fact, in Kentucky, child care assistance is no longer available to any families who are not already in the system. In Ohio the cut-off level is $19,388 per year for a full-time working parent with one child. Working families of modest income are least likely to be able to access child care.
The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been sounding the siren for years—describing the ways in which women are increasingly left out of the economic equation due, in part, to the cost of child care.
The New York Times report adds a national perspective to this issue:
The difficulty of obtaining good, affordable day care is well known as a problem afflicting the working poor. But, increasingly, middle- and upper-middle-class parents are finding that day care is hard to find or access and that, even when it is available, it is startlingly costly.
The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.
In the 4C white paper, we pointed out that child care costs more than public colleges in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Now we learn this is true in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
In 28 states, yearly child care for two children costs more than a parent earns from a 40-hour per week job at minimum wage.
There are no easy solutions. We have always, as a country, viewed child care as a private matter. A ray of hope is the greatly increased interest in providing a high-quality early learning experience for all children: hopes for a “preschool promise” in Cincinnati and Dayton, Governor Kasich’s commitment to expanding pre-K and President Obama’s agenda for young children. All of these speak to solutions that are part-day and full-day preschool, school year and year round—all to meet the work demands of parents as well as the development needs of children.
Today’s guest post comes from 4C Board Chair Davida Gable.
When I was in high school, teachers attempted to teach us about the awesome responsibilities of child care by having us carry around an egg for a week. When I kept my egg in a shoebox stuffed with washcloths at the side of the soccer field, I could continue to score goals and proceed with my Title IX dreams.
So how can I be blamed when I concluded that the key to taking care of a baby was a really good shoe box? Eager to have an extra shoe box–er… playpen—my husband and I gladly accepted our family’s offer of a playpen they had proudly saved from the 1960s. Our glee turned to stunned disbelief when we jointly stared at a mechanical Venus Fly Trap.
Then we saw the 1960s car seat, designed to be positioned over the middle of the front seat. This allowed a baby to be high enough to look out the windows and Mom to be right there to quickly throw her arm across the child’s chest in a collision. As a toddler, I must have particularly enjoyed the “just like real” metal steering wheel just inches from my face and the pretend steel gearshift protruding across my throat.
After a pause, my husband and I chuckled with relief when we thought about our high-tech home appliances and modern baby equipment. No wonder our moms had to stay home with us! What a relief. Child care would be so much easier in today’s world! We were sure we could continue to score our career goals with our precious babies ensconced in 21st- century shoe box padding.
What I didn’t know was this: When child safety seats were introduced in the mid-1960s, they “bombed.” Parents considered them an expensive extravagance. I suspect another reason: inconvenience. I never realized how these car seats would be one of my major impediments to utilizing child care help. My mother would often ask: “Can you get somebody to pick up (drop off, bring) my lovely granddaughter to…?” Then I would explain that “somebody” didn’t have a backward-facing car seat installed by a mechanical engineer, anchored to the LATCH anchor system federally required in all cars made since 2002. Even if somebody did have this, the shoulder straps were not set to her lovely granddaughter’s height and age requirements.
Even when I gave our parents our car to drive, they couldn’t independently figure out the five-point harness and buckling system. One time they asked if we could just use a phone book for our 2-year-old to sit on.
Are phone books still around?
I know, I know. Thousands of children’s lives have been saved by car seats. They’ve even been described as “the single greatest development in child safety in the last century.” And in 2011 parents were advised to keep children in a rear-facing car seat for the first two years of life. E.M.T.’s call the rear-facing seat ‘the orphan seat’ because, in a bad car accident, that child is often the only one who survives.” according to a pediatrician with a New York children’s hospital.
The car seat was just one of the betrayals of the modern stuff that was supposed to make parenting easier. One of the biggest frustrations we faced when attempting to utilize child care help was the perpetual question: “How does this work?” Whether it was assembling the ultra-safe Pack N’ Play, changing batteries in toys that required surgeon’s tools, operating the latest model microwave or dishwasher for the task. This dilemma didn’t just apply to baby stuff; it applied to everything!
My conclusion: Diapers and wipes are the only baby supplies that made child care better. Whoever invented those deserves millions of dollars!
My husband and I finally realized that all the modern stuff wasn’t going to make raising children much easier. Sound and video monitors don’t make infants cry less often. High chairs don’t prevent messy babies. Bath seats don’t make baths safer. Baby walkers don’t help babies walk earlier. Water wings won’t teach kids to swim.
And a shoe box is still just a shoe box.
More and more business leaders and elected officials are talking about the value of high quality early childhood education. And they are so right. The research is indisputable. (Well, there’s always dispute even in the face of overwhelming evidence). Study after study shows that if the right elements are present, top quality early education reaps great benefits for society.
But the fact of the matter is that having a child in a rich environment with dynamic teachers for a few hours a day is not a silver bullet if children return home where there is no conversation and no reinforcement of what is learned. There has been research around for quite a while showing dramatic differences in school performance based on the number of words spoken to the children before they get to school – the more, the better. And the number of words heard is correlated directly to the education and income of the parents. In fact, by age 3, a poor child will have heard 30 million fewer words in his home than a child from a more well-educated family.
A recent article in The New York Times, “The Power of Talking to Your Baby.” by Tina Rosenberg, talks about some new approaches to engage parents to increase talking to babies. And I love this video about the importance of talking to your baby.
Whether this renewed interest in “baby talk” is just the new new thing is yet to be seen. But I am certain of one thing –supporting parents as well as children is essential. Two-generation strategies should get more of our attention. Such approaches should be tested and then widely supported when they are effective. The Aspen Institute’s publication, Two Generations, One Future; Moving Parents and Children Beyond Poverty Together is a great resource to get us started.
Today’s post is a guest blog from 4C’s Director of Professional Development, Aaron Haneline.
Last week I attended Child Care Aware of America’s 2013 Policy Symposium. As a seasoned educational professional, I have attended many conferences over the years, but this was my first policy symposium. I was looking forward to this new experience for months.
The symposium was everything I had hoped for I attended sessions on:
- how a bill moves through the legislative process,
- the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBC),
- parent-led reform,
- accountability for federally funded quality initiatives,
- effectively advocating for quality child care outside the early care and education community and
- the President’s early learning agenda.
I spent a thrilling day at the Capitol. Child care resource and referral representatives from across Ohio executed a coordinated effort to meet with 16 Ohio House Representatives and two Senators. My morning started with coffee and an opportunity to meet with Senator Sherrod Brown, who invited us to share the challenges and opportunities our communities are currently facing in regards to early childhood education. I then walked under the Capitol in a labyrinth of hallways that connect to the Senate Office Building to my next appointment with Representative Steve Chabot. Then another walk back through the Capitol labyrinth to meet with Representative Brad Wenstrup.
We shared this message: there are great things happening for children and families in Ohio, but there are challenges to address. The great things include the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, which is driving an increase in the quality of early care and education. Ohio’s greatest challenge: too many children are being left behind – in either poor quality environments or without access to any early learning and care. Another challenge: too many parents lose out on employment opportunities due to lack of access to child care.
We also reminded our officials that children who participate in quality learning and care are ready for kindergarten have increased third-grade reading proficiency, increased high school graduation rates, less involvement with the juvenile justice system and are ready to participate in our workforce.
We requested their support to;
- Maintain and increase Child Care Development Block Grant funding
- Maintain and increase the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding
- Maintain Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant funding
Upon reflection, I accomplished all I had hoped to with my trip to Washington D.C. I had an opportunity to see many of the monuments and the White House. The weather was perfect and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I was energized by the opportunity to participate in our democratic process at the federal level. Most importantly, I was an advocate for increasing quality in early child care education.
If you would like to learn more about early child care issues and challenges facing children and families in our community or how you can participate in the process to increase quality in early child care, please visit 4C for Children’s Web site at and click on the Take Action for Children button.