One of the things that I take great pleasure in at work is experiencing a family’s first day. I want to be as much of a support, not only to that child who would be experiencing separation distress, but for the parents as well. On one such occasion, I observed a new dad, a towering African-American man, taking his 2-year old through the child’s new routine.
Dad followed our drop-off script and routine perfectly, said his goodbyes and left his young son screaming as the teachers consoled him. As dad walked out the door, I turned in time to see him clutch his heart upon hearing his son’s earnest plea, “No daddy, no, don’t leave me.” And as he reached his hands out to steady himself momentarily against the wall, I watched as he disappeared through the door, his head hung low to the ground.
I didn’t have to imagine what was going through that dad’s mind in that moment, because I have seen this scene many times. For families, lucky enough to access high-quality early care programs like Hope Child Development Center, this scene quickly turns to the more enduring one, where children happily barrel down the hallway to their classroom, parents in tow, laden with car seats and Spiderman or Elsa themed backpacks. As children and families shift to that new paradigm, the drop-off routine at child care centers across the country amplifies the unique space that the child care industry occupies – as it serves not only to build the social and emotional competence of children, but also supports families as they go off to work.
This pandemic put in stark reality how the child care industry serves as our economy’s foundation — but that it was always riven with cracks. The childcare industry has always operated on the tightest of budgets and for those who dedicate their professional lives to this work, it is not just a job, it is a passion – a calling. As we have faced the COVID-19 pandemic, our work has been deemed essential, critical not only in the time of the initial response, but also as we re-open and recover. What has not been deemed essential is the support we need to operate safely.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, after spending countless hours with Connecticut early care providers to understand how we could safely re-open for both our teachers and the young children we serve, introduced the Child Care is Essential Act. This creates a $50 billion dollar child care stabilization fund to ensure the child care industry would not collapse, and then fought to ensure that it was included in the latest relief measure passed in the House of Representatives.
I would be remiss if I do not mention what a champion DeLauro continues to be for Connecticut’s childcare industry. She was in touch with us in the beginning when some of our doors closed while others stayed open to care for the children of front-line workers and she stayed in touch as emergency programs and resources became available to sustain our businesses. And she continues to follow up as we struggle to reopen. I am personally grateful for her dedication and leadership on this critical issue.
However, these new challenges from COVID-19 demand a deliberate and sustained federal response; there is no other way to find the $50 billion needed to shore up the child care infrastructure. Some may argue that we cannot afford this, but the vital role of child care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic proves otherwise. The childcare industry responded to the nation’s call and providers poured on to the front-line from an already economically precarious position. My concern is without the $50 billion lifeline championed by Congresswoman DeLauro, that when our nation emerges from this pandemic, there may be no system left to respond to the call to help rebuild our economy or worse still, serve once more as a vital echelon in combating COVID-19 in a second wave.
Georgia Goldburn is the Director of the Hope Child Development Center in New Haven.