America is failing to provide quality day care

Jonathan Cohn, at the New Republic, has an epic, 30,000 character article at The New Republic on the state of early care and education in America. His conclusion: we, as a county, are doing a terrible job at it.

WWII_daycare_Richmond_CAAmerican day care performs abysmally. A 2007 survey by the National Institute of Child Health Development deemed the majority of operations to be “fair” or “poor”—only 10 percent provided high-quality care. Experts recommend a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, but just one-third of children are in settings that meet that standard. Depending on the state, some providers may need only minimal or no training in safety, health, or child development. And because child care is so poorly paid, it doesn’t attract the highly skilled. In 2011, the median annual salary for a child care worker was $19,430, less than a parking lot attendant or a janitor. Marcy Whitebook, the director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California–Berkeley, told me, “We’ve got decades of research, and it suggests most child care and early childhood education in this country is mediocre at best.”

At the same time, day care is a bruising financial burden for many families—more expensive than rent in 22 states. In the priciest, Massachusetts, it costs an average family $15,000 a year to place an infant full-time in a licensed center. In California, the cost is equivalent to 40 percent of the median income for a single mother.

This is specially worrisome because, as Cohn has pointed out in another must read article, early care and education is by far the most powerful, effective tool we have to help low income kids succeed.

CAHS has long recognized how important these issues are, and we have advocated for better early care and education for years we will continue to do so as member of the Early Childhood Alliance.

Our work this year is specially relevant, as budget deficits endanger Connecticut´s investment in helping low income families have access to quality child care. Care 4 Kids, the state´s child care subsidies program, has been targeted for cuts. Currently, when a family’s income raised above 50% of State Median Income (SMI), their childcare subsidy is adjusted, and they can continue receiving Care4kids until they reach 75% of SMI.  The Governor’ has proposed to close the program to families between 50 and 75% SMI, creating a sudden benefit cliff for these households. Due to the very high cost of child care in the state, these cuts can potentially drive working families to refuse pay raises or longer hours to avoid going over the income limit, as it will entail a net loss of take home income due to the sudden increase in child care payments. The governor´s plan, rather than saving money, puts these working families and their kids in a no-win situation.

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