Responding to Child Care Sector Needs in the 2020 Special Session
As we discuss the economy and our workforce, including what that looks like for the upcoming school year, it’s important that we continue to advocate for investments to keep child care programs open.
Home-based child care – often called “family day homes” – was the most likely to stay open during the pandemic; the Virginia Department of Education Office of Early Childhood reported 20 percent of providers closed.
However, “center-based” programs – those that happen outside the home – took a much larger hit. As of mid-July, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) reported that 40 percent of these center-based programs were closed. These programs range from half-day and preschool programs to full-day and year-round care for children ages 0-13.
Federal Lawmakers Must Bailout Child Care
While much of the child care sector relies on private tuition, often at rates on par with college tuition, state and federal funds are also used to support the industry.
Before COVID-19, Virginia had access to approximately $180 million in state and federal funds per yer to help lower-income families access child care and to help providers improve their quality and support the workforce. In April 2020, the federal CARES Act provided an additional $70 million to Virginia’s child care sector.
Robust federal investment for the child care sector will be necessary to keep child care programs open and workers employed. A recent survey from NAEYC found that over one-third of programs in Virginia would not be able to stay open longer than six months without additional federal support.
Leadership Transition for Child Care in Virginia Requires Partnership Now
Turning the calendar to July 1, 2020 represented a new day for the child care sector in Virginia. Legislation went into effect that moves the child care funding and licensing administration from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education by July 1, 2021. At the present moment we have two agencies with the responsibility for leadership and oversight of the sector during this transition year. This impacts how Virginia implements the response efforts, and the relationships providers and other stakeholders have with these systems. Leadership should come from the Department of Education to set the parameters for new investments to align with the needs of school-age children and to create a bridge to their soon-to-be role as the new lead agency for child care in Virginia.
State Lawmakers Must Step Up To Help Child Care Providers and Families
As we await Congressional negotiations, it is also crucial that the General Assembly looks boldly and carefully at the role it can play to ensure child care programs – and the children and families counting on them – can thrive.
As the General Assembly prepares to return for a Special Session on August 18, here is what advocates can request from their elected representatives:
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- Reinstate child care subsidy policies to support children and parents looking for employment. On July 1, COVID-19 response policies reverted for families receiving child care subsidy. This means families currently have co-pays, limited sick days, and are no longer eligible if unemployed or furloughed longer than 60 days.
- Provide additional state administered grants to implement safety standards in child care. The costs of providing care has increased while enrollment and capacity has decreased, adding a significant financial burden for cleaning supplies and new equipment. The first and second round of CARES Act grants provided an average of $11,000 to providers who remained open for three months, but it was not enough to make up for tuition loses, additional cleaning, additional staff, or hazard pay. Grouping and enrollment will be smaller to ensure social distancing and to contain groups.
- Recognize child care providers in centers and family day homes as frontline workers by giving them a priority for safety protections and fair compensation. Child care providers are an overwhelming women-majority workforce, with women of color making up a significant portion of these workers. These providers are putting themselves and their families at significant risk, yet are not afforded the same hazard pay as health care first responders or home health care providers. They’re also not prioritized for rapid testing or PPE as other caregivers. The gender disparity from the pandemic will widen if we do not prioritize the safety and fair compensation of providers. And they have not been shielded from exposure as has been afforded to public education teachers.
- Increase the supply of child care programs based on community needs. Many communities in Virginia faced inadequate child care access prior to COVID-19 and current program closures has made access even more difficult. This has led to child care “desserts.” School district plans to return on a part-time basis or for certain grades complicates the child care response in communities where some will have additional, short-term needs for school-age care. As we’ve seen through the CARES Act grants, additional funding will make more options available for all children. A recent report also points to the usefulness of grants and contracts to increase access to infant and toddler care.
- Establish a task force to create consistent protocols for health responses in educational settings. The inconsistent responses from local health departments to support testing and virus mitigation strategies has led to a growing frustration among child care providers who have dealt with positive cases among staff or children in care has been. The advice to keep children home from care for 14 days is not ideal as parents have to make tough choices about going in to work or who should care for their children. A task force will develop strategies tailored for those settings and ensure that rapid testing is available.