Taking care of the youngest among us
The Lakeville Journal Editorial
Universal child care.
If there is one part of the Biden administration’s proposals for the infrastructure bill that we should give hard thought to, this is it.
Because in today’s American society, universal child care available to all families who need it, whether at no or much lower cost, would be transformational for the economic, emotional and physical health of our youngest citizens and their adults. As it is now, and has been for too many years (really, since World War II), the price of the care of pre-school-aged children while their parents needed to work has been beyond onerous. Young families could at times feel as if they were sending their children off to get master’s degrees rather than their initial educational and social experiences, given the annual cost out of their pockets.
What a way for families to start their lives together taking care of their children. Their first steps into the world of educating their precious progeny can be like a slap in the face: This is the reality of how you can plan out this time of your lives, and it will cost you dearly no matter the decisions you make. If one family member decides to stay home to care for the children, they lose their salary and possibly medical and other benefits associated with their jobs. Or they retain their employment and pay an hourly rate for quality child care that can make life during those young years very difficult financially.
Yet for decades, studies have shown and professionals in the field have proven the value of early childhood education. The earlier children view themselves as students in a classroom setting, the more comfortable they become with their role in it and the better they do in school long-term. It’s also to the benefit of children to interact with their peers and their teachers at a younger age, so they can acquire tools for understanding and coping with their environment as they move forward through their school years. Why would there not be better support by now to have that happen as part of the early childhood education structure, especially when the pandemic complicated the lives of working families to such a great degree?
There are numerous stories being told now about mothers especially who have left the workplace due to the combination of a lack of child care and having hours reduced or being laid off at work. Finding ways back into productive work and family life will be more challenging now than we could have imagined just a couple of years ago.
If families wish to plan for one of the parents staying home in order to have their new lives be meaningful and balanced, that should be a choice, rather than a necessity that takes primarily women out of the work force. Financial support for having children served by high quality early education providers will be critical in helping families find their way back to some semblance of their previous lives, however that will look now.
No matter how child care fares in the agreement, or disagreement, on the infrastructure bill, it should continue to be a top priority for this administration and as such addressed in another way as quickly as possible if it doesn’t make the cut this time.