Tuesday, May 25, 2010
From child care to early care and education: it's still a struggle
In the early 1980s, I was radicalized by a small band of smart and committed child care workers who lobbied me when I was working for Jack Backman, a progressive state Senator in Massachusetts. First of all, as a new Bostonian who was just starting on the job, I was totally flattered that anyone would lobby me! But moreover, these incredible child care teachers were activists who loved children and understood firsthand the wage inequities for teachers caring for young children. The governor at the time called child care a “Cadillac service”, in other words, something superfluous - because women were expected to be primary caregivers for their children. But even then, 30 years ago, this view was way out of sync with the reality of women in the labor force, and especially the rise of mothers – about ½ of all mothers with infants and around ¾ of mothers with children under 5 – who continued to work for pay after their babies were born.
My child care activist buddies did their work well, and I came to believe that childcare– or early care and education as it is now called - was one of the most important issues for working parents and their children. It wasn't a hard sell for Senator Backman, who sponsored a bill to create universal child care for all. At the time, this bill seemed outrageous, the kind of outrageous that inspired behind-his-back twitters (the old-fashioned, non-techy kind). But I have learned that in the world of policy, we NEED outrageous to push the debate towards the possible...
Suffice it to say, the bill never went anywhere. Over these past 30 years, the child care movement has matured into the early childhood education movement, fueled in part by the push for educational achievement of young children, as well as by the economic reality that two-parent families need/require stable child care services to maintain economic stability. The movement throughout the country around early care and education continues to grow. There has been progress, and Massachusetts has had some notable victories. A few decades after Senator Backman’s failed legislation, a Massachusetts-based group called the Early Education for All Campaign, mobilized support among legislators and advocates around a universal pre-kindergarten bill. The bill passed, creating access to public education for all Massachusetts 4-year-olds.
But there's still a long way to go, and we could learn a lot from family policies in Europe that include paid parental leave, universal child care (that serves very young children), and non-stigmatized financial support for family caregiving…
Short of more radical change, we need to unravel some of the systemic glitches…
In a recent NY Times article (5/23: Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwarts More Job Seekers) - we learn that the Arizona state budget has cut funding for subsidized child care, forcing some low-income mothers to quit their jobs and instead receive state welfare benefits. These are single women who depend on their salaries to support their families. They will look for another job, but they need to keep their salaries below a certain limit to access subsidized child care.
What's wrong with this picture? Once again - or should I say still - we see that early care and education services are critical to family survival, and our social welfare policies in this nation undermine family economic stability.