(By Christine Glade_Shutterstock)

By Emily Withnall, Community Change Fellow

For the 2020 elections, child care has become a central issue for voters. Child care is a practical and logistical concern for individual families and it is also a critical public investment for communities. Access to affordable, high-quality child care for all children means a commitment to racial, economic, and gender justice.

To help our community thrive, our children must thrive. This means supporting high-quality child care and early education for children, and older children with disabilities. The education must be affordable, accessible, and guaranteed to everyone—including families who are marginalized because of class, race, disability, family structure, and/or immigration status.

Children are the ones who will care for us in our old age, who will run schools and hospitals, and who will inherit the problems and solutions we have created in the wake of financial, environmental, and health-related disasters. The Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, has illuminated our great need for high-quality child care for all. The quality of child care has been linked to children’s social and emotional wellbeing, but unfortunately, the cost of high-quality child care is out of reach for many families. Most child care centers that are able to offer lower rates do so by paying employees low wages—a practice that results in high employee turnover and little or no training.

“It has been very hard to find affordable child care that I can trust to place my baby so he can start obtaining early childhood education,” said Jasmine Graham, a member of SPACES in Action in Washington, DC. “I advocate for a caring economy because our country needs to drastically change the way we treat children. Children should be the first priority in all budgets, local and federal, giving them all the support they need since birth so they can succeed in their lives.”

In Montana, roughly a quarter of the state’s population is made up of children from 0-18, and of these, over 62,000 are children under the age of five. Like most other states, Montana’s early childhood educators are disproportionately women, Hispanic and Native American, over 50 years of age, and living on low incomes. In a survey about Covid-19 impacts conducted early in the pandemic, almost half of all parents cited childcare closures as a challenge. These closures have also impacted childcare educators’ livelihoods.

As the pandemic has revealed, our economy depends on the availability of child care. With schools closed in many places, parents have to figure out how to juggle both work and child care or find a way to get by on one income. Women have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19; as of the end of September 2020, 80% of the people who dropped out of the workforce were women. Women of color have dropped out of the workforce at even higher rates than Caucasian women. These trends have sobering implications for the economy, for gender roles, and for the well-being of our children.

That’s why this year, more than ever, voters have this issue in their mind. They want to know what candidates’ plans are to reform child care for every child in America.

Broader public funding will allow for child care centers to expand and hire highly trained early childcare educators who can meet the cultural and linguistic needs of all families. Public funding will also allow for the creation of more home-based childcare centers and it will help centers expand their hours to support parents with non-standard work hours.

Public funding will ensure that early childhood educators are paid a living wage with benefits, regular training opportunities, and the ability to join a professional organization, such as a union. Ensuring that early childhood educators with degrees, credentials, or demonstrated competency levels equivalent with K-12 teachers are compensated at the same level will demonstrate respect for the profession and the prioritization of children’s wellbeing.

Investment in equitable child care is something that will improve all of our lives, whether you are a parent, grandparent, early childhood educator, or anyone who employs or works with parents who have young children. And most importantly, investing in child care means investing in our children—and in our future.

That’s why this October 20 at 4pm EST, there will be a virtual rally moderated by Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry urging for a care economy that puts families first. Thousands of mothers, fathers, early childhood educators and child care providers will discuss how a bold vision for child care can be a reality in our nation, and how it is so critical to keep talking and working towards this common goal.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO. Send letters to The Afro-American • 1531 S. Edgewood St. Baltimore, MD 21227 or fax to 1-877-570-9297 or e-mail to editor@afro.com