The COVID-19 Childcare Crisis

Zoom screen of four speakers

Revaluing Care in the Times of Covid-19 Series

In addition to changing how we interact with each other, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the flaws in the United States childcare system. As daycares are forced to close and waves of layoffs in women-dominated fields continue, the funding problem within the childcare system has turned into a full-blown crisis. With reopening plans rolling out slowly in the next months, childcare providers are still in left limbo and many moms are still burdened with the primary care responsibilities at home. Lingering concerns about how to safely reopen schools in the fall highlight the critical role of reliable, affordable childcare not only for our families but also for the health of our economy.

In this critical moment, society has finally begun to understand how fundamental childcare is to our economy. To capitalize on that moment, Revaluing Care in the Times of COVID-19 – our series of student-organized workshops, brought together a panel of childcare advocates turned policymakers to discuss, in depth, the lessons we can learn from this pandemic and the policy solutions we must implement to support childcare providers in the future.

Amanda Kang ’22, a public policy major who participated in the Economies of Care Bass Connections project team last Spring, worked with Professor Jocelyn Olcott to organize this workshop held last Wednesday, June 24th. They were joined by U.S. Representative Katherine Clark of the Fifth District of Massachusetts, Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and Dr. Bisa Batten Lewis, President of the Black Child Development Institute-Atlanta (BCDI-Atlanta).

In discussing the way this pandemic has exacerbated existing problems within our system, Allvin championed the need to address how childcare is financed. Rather than paying providers based on enrollment and the number of days a week a child attends, Allvin urges for more long-term contracts and the need to renegotiate the cost of care to include better compensation, insurance, and pensions for childcare workers. By pivoting away from compensation tied to individual children, providers can build budgets from a base rate that will pay the many women of color in this industry as deserved. Dr. Lewis also highlighted how women of color can be further disadvantaged by difficulty in filing for funding as well as disparities in receiving that funding. She described how the variety in providers’ backgrounds and education levels often leave them without the business savvy to understand the pricing and fees that are key to operations beyond funding applications.

Congresswoman Clark spoke further on funding by discussing with us two bills she is sponsoring in Congress. Childcare is Essential (which she introduced with Representatives Bobby Scott and Rosa DeLauro) would invest $50 billion in childcare providers to help them through the pandemic as well as another $50 billion to increase childcare development block grants to states as a means of improving compensation in this sector. A more recent bill filed by Representative Clark, Childcare is Infrastructure, would focus $10 billion to help childcare providers upgrade their infrastructure (childcare centers, homes, etc.) to meet the coming licensing requirements for reopening. Other components of this legislation include improved technical support to help childcare providers access this funding, student loan programs to support professionals who stay in the field, and the expansion of childcare programs on college campuses to support student parents.

In their answer to our final question – what do you want listeners to take away from this workshop and do? – all three panelists repeated the importance of voting. Allvin encouraged listeners to sign up for NAEYC and NCBDI (and other organizations’) alerts and mailing lists in addition to contacting representatives from the national level all the way down to the county level. Congresswoman Clark underlined the importance of speaking up about the value of care to demonstrate public support as a way to push for additional legislation in Congress. Dr. Bisa highlighted the dangers of voter suppression and reiterated the importance of allyship in understanding where the needs are in this field and pushing for equity in those areas.

The Revaluing Care in the times of COVID-19 Series is being coordinated by Duke graduate students Tania Rispoli and Yanping Ni.  The first PODCAST in the series can be found hereThe podcast editors were Amanda Kang and Lucas Power.