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Opinion: Child care is infrastructure and must work for everyone

Opinion: Child care is infrastructure and must work for everyone

As the Bay Area struggles to get workers back to the office, too many business and political leaders continue to neglect a key piece of the puzzle – child care.

Child care is infrastructure. If we don’t have child care, parents can’t work – especially women, and especially women of color. As importantly, child care supports human infrastructure – the crucial brain development in the early years, when children build skills and connections that help them thrive in school and beyond.

However, a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that most Californians can’t afford child care – and 15% of children up to age five live in families where someone had to quit a job to care for their child. Nationally, the report said our “lack of afford­able and acces­si­ble child care shortchanges chil­dren, costs the Amer­i­can econ­o­my bil­lions of dol­lars a year, stymies women pro­fes­sion­al­ly and is push­ing fam­i­lies to the break­ing point.”

The lack of quality child care creates economic problems on multiple levels. In the short term, disruptions for working parents and employers are obvious – some parents can’t return to the office. Other parents can’t work at all.

The longer-term economic damage may be harder to see, but it has more impact. Without quality child care, many young children don’t get the nurturing and support they need in the early years. They won’t be as well prepared (socially, emotionally, and cognitively) when they get to kindergarten, and that creates more challenges – for children, teachers, and schools.

Considering everything we know about brain development in the early years, child care should be a top priority. Instead, child care programs and services are often the first thing cut during budget fights.

Even when funding is approved, millions of dollars in stipends and grants are delayed for months and longer. For small businesses, like family child cares on tight budgets, delayed payments can be a death sentence. As more child care providers shut down, wait lists grow longer for families. When they can’t find or afford child care, parents end up quitting or cutting back hours to care for their children – causing more disruption for employers, and limiting their own economic prospects. Like many things, this disproportionately impacts low income moms of color.

Every segment of our workforce – including our future workforce – relies on child care. When we fail to support child care providers, we make life even harder for working parents, and we deny too many children the enriching opportunities they need during an important stage of development.

Like all infrastructure, child care only really works when it works for everyone. Roads, trains, bridges and child care are all vital to the operation of business and the country at large.

California and Bay Area counties need to invest in all forms of child care – not just centers and home-based child care, but also the Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) care that is essential for parents working multiple jobs and early and late hours.

Child care is infrastructure. Improving every type of child care will help all our young children get a great start on learning, support our teachers and schools, and ensure that working parents can get back to work.

Whitney Evans is California Director of ParentChild+, connecting child care providers, toddlers and their families with equal opportunities from the start.