Now is the time to support our local early education and child care providers.
It is predicted that by year-end, more than 50% of the nation's early education child care providers will close permanently. A year from now, fewer than half of those that initially survived will likely remain.
Families are already struggling, and children are losing out on essential learning and socialization opportunities. Child care and early education are essential needs in our community.
As long-standing early education and child care providers in the Palo Alto community, we see firsthand the effects that the pandemic is having on the youngest segment of our population. From one day to the next, thousands of children lost connection with their teachers and peers in our community. Parents have shared how much their children missed their friends and teachers and struggled to understand why they were suddenly unable to be with them.
Young children need to be around other children, not only to develop critical socialization and self-regulation skills, but to revel in the joy of playing and learning with other children. We know from abundant research how important peer connection is to the development of children. This connection is even more profound for children who are learning English for the first time. In a normal school year, a social, play-based environment can advance language acquisition in as little as one year. Without these interactions, children lose valuable time in preparing for elementary school.
We are deeply concerned about the future of early education and child care programs. Child care already operates on a tenuous business model that pits the true cost for providing quality care against the realities of what families can afford. Significantly increased costs for protective equipment and cleaning supplies now required due to the pandemic, combined with reduced enrollment capacity requirements of up to75%, are pushing this tenuous model to the breaking point.
There are many early education and child care programs in Palo Alto, both small and large — the pandemic has created feelings of isolation and uncertainty about how each should respond. The Palo Alto Advisory Committee on Early Care and Education (PAAC-ECE) is hosting biweekly Zoom meetings to discuss the challenges local early education and child care providers face and how to meet them. Local providers are helping each other navigate the ever-changing local, state and federal mandates and recommendations while providing support and guidance to one another.
Many programs tried to adapt early on in the pandemic by providing some type of distance learning and online connection with children and families, but children need direct, personal contact with their teachers and their peers. Families need and deserve safe learning environments for their children while they work. Early education and after-school programs give parents peace of mind and the flexibility that allows working families to thrive.
There are child care providers that have created effective responses to support families. Reopening programs for children required months of planning and the creation of new, complicated protocols and training. Small, stable social pods; daily health checks, symptom monitoring procedures, daily cleaning protocols; face masks and frequent, sustained hand washing — all are part of the rigorous steps required to create safe learning environments for children. For school-age child care programs, teachers also are supporting children 's distance learning.
Unfortunately it is not financially feasible to manage these additional costs combined with reduced enrollment and increased staffing costs. Programs are operating at a loss, temporarily closing or closing permanently. At some point in the future, this virus will be controlled and we will return to a new sense of normal. By that time, however, many schools will be shuttered and many talented teachers will be out of work.
Early education and child care providers who have managed to reopen are essential workers providing critical services to other essential workers, supporting businesses by helping parents work and playing a vital role in children's development and well-being. Regardless of whether or not child care programs have been able to reopen, the critical need for child care remains, and we can all do something to help these vital services survive in the long run.
• Urge local, state and federal leaders to prioritize funding and support for child care before it is too late. Many child care providers and businesses serving children are nonprofit; ensure that nonprofit businesses have access to local relief funding.
• Send words of encouragement to teachers of children of all ages. Let them know you see their struggles, you appreciate their work and you are grateful for all they do.
• Make a donation to a local child care program you care about. Every dollar helps keep educators employed and much needed supplies within reach.
• Share your support for child care providers on social media. Remind friends and family that child care is part of the critical infrastructure that keeps other businesses operating effectively.
• Make personal choices that help stop the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask, physically distance and limit your exposure to others as much as possible. Working together, we can get this pandemic under control and move more quickly toward recovery and repair.
We all have a role we can play supporting families and ensuring that child care and education programs survive these unprecedented times. This is a great opportunity for us to come together as a community to support children and families.
Janet Vanides is the director of Palo Alto Friends Nursery School and can be emailed at [email protected] Lisa Rock is the executive director of Palo Alto Community Child Care (PACCC) and can be emailed at [email protected].