Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Parents Wrestle with School and Care Choices in Pandemic

Melissa Tyler of Ontario, Ore., worries about sending her 5-year-old son into school this fall during a pandemic. But she’s even more concerned about Mason, who has Down’s syndrome, slipping behind.

“I think socially he could be losing ground; that is my biggest concern,” says Tyler, a bank teller in the town on Oregon’s eastern border. “He thrives in a classroom. He needs that social interaction. He hasn’t gotten it since March.”

Candice and Adolfo Jimenez have enrolled their daughter, Xitlalli (pronounced seet-lolli), 4, and son, Necalli, 10, in a Spanish immersion program at the private International School in Portland. They know their kids will get a pared-down version of their education through distance learning, but they prefer that over exposing their children to COVID-19.

“We feel most comfortable with being virtual because it provides safety in a time of uncertainty,” says Candice Jimenez, research manager for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Parents of Oregon’s youngest students express varying views on how best to resume education this fall. They all must weigh the risk of infection against the risk of their children losing ground at a critical time in their early education.

“Some folks want to go back into the brick-and-mortar no matter what,” says Don Grotting, superintendent of Beaverton School District. “Others say, ‘Until there is a vaccine, we are not sending our kids to school.’”

And parents who work outside their homes must find a place for their kids at a time when child care has become even scarcer than it was before the pandemic.

“Even if I can afford child care,” says Grotting, “where are those places going to be?”

Learning at a distance

Beaverton, like Portland, North Clackamas, Tigard-Tualatin, Salem-Keizer and other large districts, will open virtually at least through mid-November. Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools cannot open classrooms to students until statewide and county COVID-19 metrics meet certain criteria for three weeks in a row. With the positive virus rate still above 5 percent in mid-August, all public schools will open with only distance learning.

There could be exceptions. “Subsets of schools” in smaller communities, state guidelines say, will be allowed to return to in-person instruction based on the local level of virus spread, prior to county and state metrics being met. This guidance also makes allowances for limited in-person instruction for groups of students K-3 students, English learners, and students experiencing disability. These allowances, however, are not mandates. Schools and districts are expected to offer in-person provisions for priority populations “to the extent possible,” as determined at the local level.

State and district leaders are doing research and working to build educators collective capacity around what works best in providing distance education to young students, says Jennifer Patterson, the state’s assistant superintendent for the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. They want to balance virtual teaching with applied learning, where children engage in off-screen projects and activities with learning objectives, she says.

The state also is encouraging teachers to help households exploit their assets, says Patterson. If they have extended families living nearby, for example, they could tap siblings, grandparents and other relatives to help teach young children with the help of online teachers. They could use games, play, songs and projects to help young children build skills in literacy, numeracy and vocabulary, Patterson says.

The Jimenezes say they are fortunate to both be working at home so they can trade off helping their children with online education. They worry more about their children’s social and emotional development and its relation to their academic growth, Candice says.

“You want to keep having that social system for them so they are getting to know other kids,” she says. “I worry about their social and cognitive development in relation to other kids in the community.”

Other parents worry their young children will lose academic ground at a time when the quality of their education can dramatically affect the trajectory of their lives.

Dove Spector, Clackamas, a colleague of Candice Jimenez and project specialist for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, and her husband, Kyle Dexter, a screen printer, have enrolled their 4-year-old son in the Portland Parks Preschool. They worry their child is going to miss critical socialization because the school is opening remotely.

“I worry about giving him the proper tools to be successful academically,” says Spector, a Nez Perce tribal member. “It really stems from my own experience with racism in the education system.”

Learning in the classroom

Whenever schools do physically open their buildings to children, most parents clearly want them to do so with an abundance of caution. The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division surveyed 3,060 parents in need of child care, including preschool. The parents collectively had 1,139 children two or under, 1,955 children ages 3 to 5 and 890 kids ages 6 or older.

About one in five parents were uncomfortable with their children receiving meals prepared by staff, more than half were uneasy with their children going to public parks or using public play equipment and two thirds were nervous about their children going on field trips.

In the small district of Yoncalla 45 miles south of Eugene, nearly nine in 10 parents want to see their children back in school this fall, says Superintendent Brian Berry. Parents are heavily involved in plans for health and safety measures that meet state guidelines.

“I feel like we can do this and still have our kids in school,” says Mary King of Yoncalla. Her 4-year-old daughter, Rosemary, will be in the district’s preschool, created in partnership with the Children’ Institute’s Early Works program. “I have faith in my school district and in the preschool that the cleaning precautions will be increased.”

The parents felt strongly that schools and child care providers:
  • Require staff and children with COVID-19-like symptoms to stay home.
  • Follow all Oregon Health Authority sanitation and clearing guidelines.
  • Have a plan in place to communicate with families about COVID-19 issues such as infections, policy changes and contact tracing.
  • Have flexible staff sick-leave policies for cases of sickness or virus exposure.
  • Require children and staff to wash their hands for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day.
  • Check all children and adults entering the building for fever and virus symptoms.

Scarce child care

Some parents, including a disproportionate share with low-income jobs, must work outside the home and find care for their young children while they do so. Yet they often cannot afford child care, which averaged about $1,200 a month before the pandemic. What’s more, the state’s licensed child care capacity has been cut by more than half, from 106,000 slots a year ago to 48,000 today. The state’s child care guidelines allow only emergency child care providers who give priority to children of first responders, health care workers and other essential personnel to operate. The state has, since May, awarded $22 million in federal coronavirus relief to about 2,800 child care facilities. That’s far fewer than the 3,787 providers operating in January, and, under state health guidelines, most centers still functioning must do so with fewer children than before the pandemic.

While K-12 public schools, along with government-funded preschool programs like Oregon Pre-K and Preschool Promise, have responded to health and safety guidelines by closing for in-person learning, they continue to receive funding and will remain intact through the crisis, retaining their workforce and continuing to provide virtual learning opportunities to students. The vast majority of child care programs are not in the same boat. Because 70 percent of child care and preschool funding comes from parent tuition, which is only paid when a child is able to attend, providers who have had to close or who are operating at a decreased capacity, without comparably decreased overhead, face enormous financial hardship and may be forced to close permanently, with impacts to the availability of child care lasting long into the future.

Tyler of Ontario, a single mother, has been able to rely on her nearby parents to watch Mason while she works at a bank. She doesn’t know what she would do without their help, she says, as she cannot afford child care. Plus she would have a hard time finding it. With less than one child care slot for every three children, her Malheur County already qualified as a child care desert before the pandemic hit. Now there are even fewer seats. By late summer, the 9,930-square-mile county had only 10 vacant school-age child care slots.

As of mid-August, the statewide capacity for child care for all ages stood at 47,622 children with 12,495 vacancies. Even at capacity, the state has enough child care slots for only 10 percent of its 467,000 children ages 9 and under.

With child care so scarce and expensive, parents like Tyler are turning to relatives or friends to watch their children. Others are quitting their jobs or hiring nannies. And some parents are grouping in bubbles so they can take turns babysitting or share costs for tutors.

Some local governments are looking for ways to provide more child care services, but as with so much in this pandemic, the majority of Oregon parents will be on their own.

Of course, what all parents want is a return to normal school, says Kayla Bell, Beaverton School District’s administrator for elementary curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

“We understand that,” she says.

Spector, of Clackamas, says she’s grateful she can work at home and help her son with his distance learning, but she worries about his future.

“It just feels like [the pandemic] is never going to end because of a lack of federal leadership,” she says. “I’m happy to do my part, but I’m frustrated. It’s hard not to feel that this is going to have a strong impact on my son as he grows into adulthood.”

Parents and Teachers Weigh Quality vs. Safety in Pandemic

Parents and Teachers Weigh Quality vs. Safety in Pandemic

As Oregon educators prepare to open schools this fall, they are searching for ways to give their youngest students quality education while keeping them safe in a pandemic.

That goal poses an enormous challenge if they physically open and an even bigger one if they don’t and instead teach at a distance.

District administrators are preparing under state guidelines to keep students in small groups on campuses, stagger school time with distance lessons, or teach entirely online. If they do enter classrooms, teachers and most students will wear masks, distance from one another and avoid touching common surfaces.

All of these safety measures work against best education practices for preschoolers and kindergartners, who learn concepts and socialization through play, touch, and close interaction with one another and teachers. Preschool teachers wearing masks can’t use facial expressions to help students sound out letters and words. They can’t group children on the rug for reading. They can’t let them explore the feel of water and sand on the sensory tables. And they can’t expect preschoolers to observe all of their safety protocols.

“Trying to keep a bunch of 3-year-olds six feet apart  it’s not even a reality,” says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon Education Department’s Early Learning Division.

ODE reopen guide page

A page from ODE’s school reentry guidelines reflect the complexity of reopening decisions.

Choosing distance

Many districts such as Portland, Beaverton, North Clackamas, Tigard-Tualatin and Salem-Keizer already have decided to teach remotely at least until mid-November.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ordered schools to use distance learning until the state’s coronavirus positive testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three weeks in a row. That poses even bigger challenges for teachers of preschool, kindergarten and primary grades.

“As a general rule, the younger the child, the more challenging distance learning becomes,” says Mandell.

Megan Barber, teacher of 22 preschool students at Yoncalla Elementary in the hills 45 miles south of Eugene, can attest to that. When Oregon closed its schools this spring, Barber did her best to provide lessons to her remote students. She read stories and sang songs to them on Facebook. She prepared individualized “care packages” of educational materials for each student and delivered them to their homes, where she would talk with them and their parents. She talked to her students on FaceTime. She sent them notes and birthday cards. But it was never enough.

“What we do in the classroom is magic,” says Barber, “and you can’t replicate that with technology.”

Barber this fall will be entering her fifth year as teacher of a public preschool created with help from Early Works, an initiative of the Children’s Institute supported by The Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg. The project, launched 10 years ago, is helping Yoncalla School District pool resources with other public and private groups to build a coherent education program for every child in the Yoncalla attendance area from birth to age 8. The goal is to ensure those children are prepared for kindergarten and later success in school and life.

One of them is four-year-old Rosemary King, who completed her first year of preschool listening to Barber read stories on Facebook while her mother, Mary King, helped her with educational activities at home. Mary King says she’s fortunate to be able to be home with Rosemary, whose father William King works nights outside the home. But she says she just can’t give her daughter the quality of education she was getting in Barber’s class.

“I watched her flourish,” she says. “I watched her come out of her shell and be part of a group.”

King hopes Rosemary can go back to Barber’s class for the full 5.5 hours, four days a week.

“The social interaction at her age is so important to learning that I feel like taking the kids out of school is hurting more than helping,” she says. “I hope there will be an option for the kids to go to school at least a couple days a week.”

If not, King plans to join forces with some other Yoncalla parents to teach their children in a group. She does have concerns about COVID-19, particularly because Rosemary has a restricted airway disease that puts her at higher risk for upper respiratory complications.

“It is always a worry, but I have a lot of faith in this school that they will be taking the precautions,” she says.

A classroom in the Beaverton School District before the coronavirus pandemic.

Giant test

Many education leaders say figuring out how to sustain education in a pandemic poses the biggest test of their careers. Beaverton School District Superintendent Don Grotting says this “is the most challenging time I’ve ever had” in 24 years as an administrator. “I’ve never seen people work so hard. I’ve never seen people have to pivot so quickly.”

Kayla Bell, Beaverton’s elementary administrator for curriculum, instruction and assessment, agrees. “There is nobody on the planet that can give you advice,” she says.

Ericka Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, which offers preschool to 102 students and is also an Early Works partner, says that planning for the fall has been difficult and surreal. Even so, she’s looking for ways to improve.

“We have an opportunity to really innovate, too,” she says.

Uncertainty clouds everyone’s decisions. Some research suggests children under 10 do not easily contract or spread the virus, though it is inconclusive, and conflicting research shows children are highly contagious. Virus infections have surfaced in some Oregon child care centers. Lake Grove KinderCare in Lake Oswego had an outbreak of 29 cases in June, and Oregon Child Development in Nyssa and Hall Boulevard KinderCare in Tigard each had five cases this summer.

No one knows how well Oregon will be able to contain the virus by fall. Some teachers, particularly those older or with medical problems, are wary of returning to classrooms. Parents’ opinions cover the spectrum, says Mandell, whose division surveyed 3,600 parents.

Some insist the virus is no worse than a cold and want school, sports, and activities fully restored, says Mandell, while others say “there is nothing a state agency could do to make me feel safe putting my child in child care” or preschool.

Birdie Wermy, a project director for Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, is getting help from her retired parents while her son, 4, and daughter, 7, attend preschool and second grade online. While Wermy works out of her home, her mom, who lives nearby, will help her children with their distance learning this fall. Her son will be attending Tualatin Elementary’s preschool, which will be online for at least eight weeks. Even if school opens later, Wermy will be reluctant to send her children to school and risk having them bring COVID-19 home to her parents. But she also worries about the quality of education they’re getting online.

“I know that my son would probably do better in an actual classroom setting and being around other kids,” she says. “In the back of my mind, I ask “what is this going to look like five years from now? Is there going to be this huge cohort of children who were 2020-21 preschoolers basically left behind because they didn’t learn their basics before kindergarten?”

State guidelines

Both Oregon’s Department of Education and its Early Learning Division have issued guidelines, 29 pages for young children and 46 pages for older ones, on opening schools this fall. They provide requirements and suggestions for a range of activities, including family engagement, group size, personal protective equipment, student drop-offs, food, hand washing, and response to confirmed virus cases. 

Each school is expected to follow guidelines in developing a plan, or Operational Blueprint for Reentry. That poses an enormous task for small districts with a handful of administrators working summer months. Adding to the complexity, guidelines are being revised as the summer unfolds, according to how the virus spreads. In its latest version, released last week, the state told districts that they should prioritize in-person instruction for special education students, English language learners and other groups, even if county-wide cases are not low enough to allow a return for all students to the classroom.

“I can tell you from a small, rural school perspective, the guidelines are totally overwhelming,” says Brian Berry, superintendent of Yoncalla School District. 

Most parents in Yoncalla want to see the schools open classrooms for students in September, he says. That’s what Barber wants too. She says she’s never missed her students so much as after the state closed her school. 

“I’m so grateful to go back,” she says. “I don’t care what it takes, what regulations we have to put in. Just so I can see them.”

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

In Oregon, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grants (KPI) fund a diverse range of programming that supports early school readiness and family engagement, as well as professional development for early childhood and early grades educators. Data shows that KPI programs are especially impactful for children and families from historically underrepresented communities.

-But as COVID-19 began working its way through the state in March and state budget projections have plummeted in its wake, those who work on behalf of young children are facing a challenging new reality: some KPI programs may not have the funding to continue.

That’s unfortunate for thousands of kids and families who benefit from such programs and contrary to the equity goals that the state has laid out for itself. Spanish-speaking children and families are among the historically underrepresented communities that have benefited most from KPI programming.

“We rely on KPI funds to provide a number of our culturally specific early learning and parent engagement programs,” says Sadie Feibel, early childhood director at Latino Network. “These programs are critical for supporting Latinx children and their parents to become confident learners and engaged advocates in our schools.”

On a scale of 1 [definitely disagree] to 5 [definitely agree] all families surveyed reported increased benefits of participating in KPI-funded family engagement programming, but Latinx families showed the greatest levels of growth across a range of school readiness indicators. Source: Early Learning Division, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Grants, Outcomes Survey Summary, 2018

A Systems-Change Strategy, Embedded with Equity

KPI’s vulnerability in the budget may partly be due to the fact that it’s part of a larger effort to drive systems change in early education and early grades learning.

Improving the alignment between what have traditionally been two separate systems of care and support for children and families is the overarching goal of “P-3,” or prenatal to third grade work.  That shift in thinking and approach is a key strategy for closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

“We know that opportunity gaps are evident before children ever step foot in a kindergarten classroom,” says Brooke Chilton-Timmons, early learning coordinator for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System. “So the work to address them really needs to begin much earlier than age 5, and to be truly effective and lasting, it needs to be woven into other supports in the early health and social service sectors.”

Molly Day, director of Multnomah County’s early learning hub, worries that because KPI-funded programming is so innovative, that the big picture, long-term benefits can be hard for some to grasp. She fears that the positive momentum gained over the last seven years of the program will be lost if funding is interrupted.

For those struggling to understand the nuance and complexity of this multi-system, multi-pronged approach, she offers a simple distillation: “KPI work is equity work.” 

Nurturing Family Engagement in Multnomah County

Chau Hunyh, a former P-3 coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) worked at Lincoln Elementary in the David Douglas School District. The surrounding neighborhood includes a number of Bhutanese and Nepalese refugee families.

Hunyh served as an important cultural broker between families, the school, and the community, hosting relationship-building parent education events and by connecting families to available food, health, and other resources. She is particularly proud of her work with two Bhutanese parents who are deaf. She was able to connect them to interpretation and other assistance that gave them the confidence to converse with school staff and participate in school-based activities and events like a play and learn group and Bingo night.

Prior to Hunyh’s involvement, no Bhutanese families had registered for a SUN after school program or for summer program opportunities. Afterwards, ten families signed up.

Photo Courtesy of Youth and Family Services Division, SUN Service System, Multnomah County

The work of P-3 coordinators often goes beyond supporting kindergarten readiness, as parent Charmaine Worthy shared in a letter she wrote about Ventura Park Elementary’s P-3 coordinator, Jacqui MacDougal. It reads in part: 

“Jacqui expertly led a week-long program that built a great foundation for those lucky kids – from familiarizing them with their new school environment, to practicing the routines and expectations that their kindergarten teachers would have of them in the weeks to come.

[Her work] has been especially meaningful to us because of financial challenges we’ve experienced in the last few years. From [connections to resources like] Backpack Buddies to food pantries and food boxes offered to us, Jacqui has been a dependable source of comfort, encouragement, and relief at times when we did not have the means to fully provide for ourselves.

We are humbled by the kindness and respect that she has always treated us with. We are so grateful for “Ms Jacqui” and the tireless work that she does for the Ventura Park community.”

From Participants to Parent Leaders 

“P-3 work not only benefits families who receive services, but it also empowers the parents to serve as leaders and advocates for their own communities, from within their own communities,” said Mani Xaybanha, a program specialist for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System.

Xaybanha notes that four former P-3 program participants are now serving as P-3 coordinators in elementary schools. 

“The impact those parents have is amazing,” she said. 

Learn more about the power of parent leadership in this story from our Early Childhood Coalition partner, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). (Click image to view)

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Oregon’s child care providers are feeling strong financial pressure to reopen, but are unsure of their ability to effectively implement health, safety, and other requirements outlined by the state.

That’s according to more than 1,600 providers who responded to a survey conducted in April by Oregon’s Early Learning Division. The ELD says that the responses helped to update standards for child care in mid-May, and promises more detailed analysis and additional surveys to come.

More than half of providers responding to the survey were open, mostly as emergency care providers (62 percent).

Respondents represented a wide range of setting types, demographic and geographic backgrounds.

In addition to English, 128 respondents took the survey in Spanish and 16 took the survey in Russian. There were no respondents in the other languages offered (Vietnamese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese).

eld survey child care 5.20

Provider representation by zip code. Source: ELD

Social Distancing Requirement Considered Impossible

Licensed and regulated child care in Oregon can take many forms, from smaller, home-based settings to large, center-type facilities. Regardless of setting type, providers overwhelmingly cited the ability to maintain six feet of social distance as one of the most difficult requirements to implement.

A number of providers felt that doing so with infants and young children was a practical impossibility. Maintaining stable groups of 10 or fewer is also very difficult for all but those registered as family providers, who usually care for just a small number of children.

 

Source: ELD

Reopening Barriers

Health and safety concerns are the biggest barrier to reopening for respondents who are not currently operating, presumably due to COVID-19 related issues (49 percent). Providers expressed concern about their ability to keep themselves, their staff, and the children under their care healthy without a significant reduction in cases or a widely-available vaccine. Some did not feel it would be safe to reopen until the coronavirus is eliminated and others said that reopening was not an option due to their own or family members’ health status.

Source: ELD

Financial Support Needed

The cost of operating with lower or limited enrollment was the second most-cited barrier, especially for providers who usually serve larger numbers of children. All types of providers felt that financial stabilization or tuition replacement assistance will be necessary to reopen. Many providers who are currently operating said that they are doing so at a financial loss or barely covering costs. Offering hazard (recognition) pay for staff and additional training for staff was also named as a top priority.  

The full report is here and includes more detailed information about providers’ responses and comments on the survey’s open-ended questions.

supports to reopen child care

Source: ELD

Child Care Crisis Not Limited to Oregon

Oregon’s survey results echo those from similar surveys conducted in other states like CaliforniaNew Jersey, and Nebraska.

In addition to state-level efforts to support child care, there is increasing awareness that federal investment is necessary to keep the child care industry afloat.

Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden have called for $50 billion in emergency funding for child care in the next coronavirus stimulus package. 

 

Bonamici Report: Child  Care in Crisis

Bonamici Report: Child Care in Crisis

What We’re Reading

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici has issued a report on the state of child care in Oregon and across the nation. “Child Care in Crisis: Solutions to Support Working Families, Children and Educators,” is informed by conversations with providers, early childhood educators, and parents. Their stories illustrate in clear terms that healthy child care infrastructure is essential.

As our country grapples with systemic racism and ongoing gaps in access to opportunity, Bonamici’s report places child care issues squarely in that context:

“Fixing the child care system is also an issue of racial justice. The child care workforce is overwhelmingly women, and predominantly women of color. We must make sure child care providers and early childhood educators are paid a living wage that reflects the value of their highly-skilled work. Along with other barriers, families of color face income gaps that make quality child care even less affordable. Black, Indigenous, and other children of color are more likely to be in the least supported child care settings, and many child care settings are segregated by race. Resources must be distributed in a way that focuses on equity and on dismantling the systemic underinvestment in Black, Indigenous, and other families and workers of color.”

The report describes the pre-COVID child care crisis in Oregon, the ways the pandemic has exacerbated this crisis and created new problems, policy efforts to stabilize the industry during the pandemic, and a proposed path forward, including specific legislative actions to increase resources for families and the child care workforce.

An Existing Child Care Crisis in Oregon

Bonamici’s report says that the existing child care crisis in our state boils down to three main issues:

There is a vast, unmet need for high-quality, affordable child care.

“Early childhood education fosters children’s social and emotional development and prepares them to thrive in school and throughout life. Investment in early learning, including quality child care, is also good for the economy because it allows parents to work, seek work, or participate in their own educational advancement, while knowing their children are safe and learning. Unfortunately, there is more need than available care. According to the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences, all 36 counties in Oregon were child care deserts for infants and toddlers before the pandemic, with only one child care slot for every three children who need care. Families in rural areas face even more scarcity. Access to affordable, high quality child care tends to be hardest for low-income families and families of color.”

Available child care comes at a high cost to families.

“Working families in Oregon pay some of the highest child care costs in the country. Child care can cost as much as, or more than, college. According to research by Child Care Aware, infant care in a center in Oregon averages $13,518 per year compared to $10,610 for in-state college tuition at a public college. In the Portland Metro area families are paying upwards of $21,000 per year for center-based infant care.”

“Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that no more than 7 percent of household income go toward child care payments, the average in Oregon is 14.7 percent for preschool and 18 percent for infant and toddler care. This burden is much higher for low-income families.”

Compensation and benefits for early childhood educators are insufficient.

“The quality of a child care program depends on the quality of the staff. Increasingly, child care programs require advanced degrees and credentials to reflect the science and skills required of this workforce. Yet while education and training requirements have increased, wages have remained stagnant.”

“[Child care providers] are paid near-poverty wages, and nearly half are eligible for public assistance. In Oregon the average annual income of early childhood educators is $26,740, and nationwide they are paid on average $10.72 an hour. Additionally, child care providers and early childhood educators often lack some of the same benefits afforded to other workers, such as paid vacation time and health care. This disproportionately affects women and women of color, who make up about half of the child care workforce. Skilled, supported, and knowledgeable early childhood educators provide high-quality education, nurture the social and emotional development of children, and set children on a path to success. Low hourly wages and few or no benefits not only jeopardize the financial security of workers, but also negatively affect retention and quality.”

Problems Exacerbated by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all of the child care industry’s pre-existing problems. From the report:

“Prior to COVID-19, Oregon had 3,835 licensed providers with the capacity to serve approximately 128,000 children in child care. During the pandemic, Oregon Governor Kate Brown required that all child care programs close unless they were operating as emergency child care for essential workers—2,200 programs stayed open as emergency child care.”

“Although these providers have the capacity to serve about 23,000 children, only 15,000 children are currently enrolled. This means that only 12 percent of the children who attended care before COVID-19 are attending care during the pandemic. The providers that have remained open also face increased expenses to care for children safely, including the cost of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and they also lose revenue because they must limit classroom sizes.”

As providers have responded to the pandemic by closing their doors, or by limiting enrollment to children of essential workers, many have struggled to pay for continuing operating expenses such as rent, insurance, and utilities with dramatically decreased or non-existent revenue. The report makes it clear that these circumstances will do devastating damage to an already delicate child care situation:

“The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found that 27 percent of the Oregon child care providers it surveyed indicated they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without additional funding. Alarmingly, 21 percent reported they could not survive a closure of any length without additional funding. Nationwide, we have already seen more than 330,000 child care providers and early childhood educators lose their jobs in a workforce that is predominantly women and women of color.”

“Without swift action, many providers and centers—whether they are small family childcare businesses, franchise locations, or national child care providers—will not be able to reopen their doors when physical distancing requirements are eased. The Center for American Progress estimates that as many as 44,000 slots could be permanently lost in Oregon.”

Policy Efforts to Stabilize the Industry During the Pandemic

Bonamici’s report outlines important legislative wins that have acted to bolster the child care industry and support families with young children during the pandemic. These include:

  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expanded access to emergency paid sick time and paid family leave to nearly 87 million workers to help cover their own illness, illness of a family member, as well as child care and school closures
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included:
    • Federal funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program for continued payment and assistance to child care providers and to support child care for essential workers
    • Key supports for early childhood educators, including a suspension of payments on federally-held student loans
    • Access to small business loans of up to $10 million that can be forgiven, if programs use the loans for specific purposes such as wages, paid sick or family leave, health insurance benefits, retirement benefits, mortgages or rent, or utilities

A Proposed Path Forward

Bonamici ends her report with a commitment to pursue additional legislation that would continue to stabilize and support the child care industry, as well as families with young children, through the pandemic and beyond. Details on the specific proposed and current legislation can be found in the full report.

“If substantial support is not provided to sustain the child care sector, programs will continue to bear a steep financial burden and be forced to shutter permanently. And if child care is not available as businesses reopen, parents—mostly mothers—will find it impossible to go back to work. This will have long-term consequences for our families and economy,” says Bonamici.

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority.

Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority.

For those who missed it on May 26, here is the webinar recording and slide deck for Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority. 

Hosted by The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, this webinar features our own Elena Rivera, senior health policy and program advisor at Children’s Institute.

Here’s the summary from GLR:

In this special GLR webinar, Dr. Jacqueline Jones of Foundation for Child Development moderated a conversation exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young children and strategies and resources that can help support children’s emotional well-being.

Dr. Pamela Cantor, the Founder of Turnaround for Children, discussed the “COVID paradox” in which the physical distancing that keeps us and others safe can threaten the social connections that help us manage stress and build resilience. She explained the impacts that stress — and the resulting cortisol — can have on brain development but emphasized that positive relationships — and the resulting oxytocin — can protect children and help them manage stress and build resiliency. Cantor underscored the importance of context on brain development and explained how, to be effective, our education system needs to support the whole child and the learner inside that child. She outlined the five non-negotiables for whole-child design: Positive Developmental Relationships; Environments Filled with Safety and Belonging; Integrated Supports; Intentional Development of Critical Skills; Mindsets and Habits; and Rich, Instructional Experiences for Children. She discussed the Building Blocks for Learning framework and explained how the three R’s — Relationships, Routines and Resilience — can support healthy development, learning and stress management, both while children are at home and when they return to school.

Dr. Philip Fisher of the Center for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Oregon shared how he launched Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development – Early Childhood (RAPID-EC) to gather and share real-time information about the challenges facing families of young children during this crisis. A weekly survey of a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 households with at least one child under age 5, RAPID-EC has uncovered significant increases in caregiver stress and decreases in family income with many respondents also reporting difficulties in paying for basic necessities and delays in seeking health care services. While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread, Fisher shared how low-income households and those in which a child has a disability are reporting much higher rates of mental health difficulties. Survey reports are posted each week to help inform public and private responses to the crisis. While many of the issues underlying the survey responses predate the pandemic, Fisher suggested that the findings can help leaders transform the early childhood system, making quality care and supports more accessible.

Elena Rivera of Children’s Institute shared her reflections on the presentations, highlighting the themes of the importance of families and relationships, the existence of disparities that must be addressed and an urgency to act now. She explained that this crisis offered the opportunity to “build back better” by holding families at the center, focusing on equity and taking action now. She encouraged webinar participants to lift up both stories and data to make the case for change, to connect with people through action and to build a movement to advance systems change for young children and their families.

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