Childcare at the Intersection of Prejudice and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that the health of our economy rests on the shoulders of our country’s childcare workers. The majority of the people tasked with caring for our nation’s youngest members are women of color and among the lowest paid and least valued members of our society. Children and their caregivers together bear the brunt of woefully inadequate and poorly thought out plans for reopening early education and care.

Among the most vulnerable of this already vulnerable group are family daycare providers, many of whom serve immigrant families. They should be counted among “essential workers.” Instead they face seemingly insurmountable challenges in the process of reopening with minimal to no support. A colleague who works closely with this group shared their words with me. They describe feeling “voiceless” and “invisible.” One said, “I hate that none of us providers were invited to the table. “And another, “I hate being asked to do things I don’t believe in for children.” One captured perfectly the social context:

“I don’t think this is separate from what is happening in the larger world. I think if more family child care providers were white and privileged, we would not be trampled in this way. We would be given the opportunity to come up with plans that made the lives of children and families and caregivers central to moving forward. if we had been at the table, we would have been talking about how to meet the needs of children, about the importance of physical touch and proximity and group play, about the necessity of sensory materials for regulation and play and creativity, about the need for time outdoors, in nature, in the community, in active play, about the importance of interaction between caregivers and families not only for health screening, but for communication about our lives and the lives of our children. We would have made the plan in an image that was realistic, financially viable, loving, and kind.”

In May of this year Melinda Gates wrote an op ed in the Washington Post titled, How rethinking caregiving could play a crucial role in restarting the economy. She referenced the rapid mobilization of a childcare system during World War II, observing that “While Rosie the Riveter was on the assembly line, she needed child care.”

She wisely suggests that parallel efforts be made to rebuild our own childcare system that is now being exposed with all its deep pre-pandemic flaws. She suggests private companies could offer a solution.” My company, Pivotal Ventures, has invested directly and through partners in these companies and others as part of our broader strategy to drive caregiving innovation. Entrepreneurs with bold ideas to modernize care should have the opportunity to realize them.”

A recent LA times article references a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts proposed a $100-billion fund, an amount Clark said would “begin to treat child care as the key piece of our economic infrastructure that it is.”

The coronavirus pandemic posed unique challenges that call for large influx of resources. But the opposite is happening. With public health guidelines in place, many centers will only be able to serve half the number of children. A local paper in rural Western Massachusetts captures the problem with this headline “Depletion of revenue alarming.”

Childcare must reopen in a timely fashion. Not only for our economy but also for our children. Social-emotional learning in the context of play with others supports healthy development. With the stress families experience in the face of stay-at-home orders, some children are at increased risk of neglect and abuse. But the process deserves the time, attention, and financial resources in keeping with the value we place on the next generation. By putting enough minds together with enough money, we should be able to solve this problem.

While our country still has a long way to go, this past month has seen rapid erosion of long standing discrimination. The Black Lives Matter movement, the end of workplace discrimination for the LGBTQ community, and the Supreme Court ruling on DACA represent significant shifts. Will children be the next frontier? Elizabeth Young-Breuhl, an analyst, political theorist and biographer, in her 2011 book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children calls attention to the way human rights of children are threatened. Childism is defined as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.” A previous post describes the phenomenon which Young-Breuhl identifies as a political one. She compares the situation in our country with that of comparably developed countries that have lower rates of child abuse and neglect. There, “children have a range of preventative and development-oriented services: universal health care, health services, and parent support services in homes after the birth of a child; maternal and parental leaves for infant care; developmental preschool programs; after-school programs; and economic supports of various kinds.”

Along with the stress and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, reopening of childcare will lead to moments of joy and connection as children reunite with friends and beloved caregivers. The pleasure of reconnection can provide the energy needed to navigate this confusing and disorganizing time. In a parallel fashion, this period of unprecedented discord may go down in history as one of tremendous growth for our nation. With hope children will be counted among the beneficiaries.

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