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.”

Honoring Dr. Ruby Takanishi

Honoring Dr. Ruby Takanishi

“Recreating primary education is the civil rights issue of our times.”

- Dr. Ruby Takanishi

On Saturday evening we lost a giant in the field of education and child development. Dr. Ruby Takanishi was an amazing woman and thought leader who devoted her life to making a difference in the lives of children over many decades of unwavering commitment and passion to create equitable educational opportunity.

She was the longtime president of the Foundation for Child Development and made numerous contributions in that role including developing the PreK-3rd movement, and a fierce commitment to the needs of immigrant children and dual language learners. She was always ahead of public opinion.

Many of us at Children’s Institute are indebted to her guidance and support over the years. More than a decade ago, she helped shape the direction of Early Works and more recently served as senior advisor to the development and launch of Early School Success. She was our mentor, and pushed us to explore new information and ideas, read the latest research, ask probing and insightful questions, listen to more voices, and dig deep on the issues impacting young children and their families.

Dr. Takanishi’s generosity and impact has left us with the enormous responsibility of living up to her expectations of creating a society that truly supports all children and families, guided by research best practices and informed policy.

We have had the honor of many constructive and thoughtful conversations with Dr. Takanishi over the years, and we are fortunate to have two of them recorded for The Early Link Podcast.

In one segment, she discusses her book, First Things First: Creating the New American Primary School. In addition to sharing insights about reimagining public education, Dr. Takanishi discusses inequalities in education based on a variety of interconnected factors: varied state investments and strategies, declining federal investments in children and families, and the changing roles of parents, families, and communities in the public school system. She also provides advice for Oregon in building a stronger early learning system, and much more. Listen or read the transcript here.

In a discussion focused on English language learners, Dr. Takanishi joined two Oregon educators to discuss the needs of English learners and dual language learners in our schools, communities, and early learning systems. We learned about recommendations to promote the educational success of young English learners based on her experience as the chair for the Committee on Fostering School Success for English Learners and her role in developing its final report. We also explored the work in two Oregon districts leading the way on language development for their students. Listen or read the transcript here.

As we reflect on her significant contributions, we should remember her guiding advice at this time of unparalleled disruption across our schools and educational institutions:

“The schools we have today are a product of the last century. It is time to put our own generation to the test by designing a system that will help all of our youngest learners realize their educational potential. Talent is universally distributed. Opportunity to develop that talent, sadly, is not.”

Ruby has had a lasting imprint on the values and work of the Children’s Institute, and we are forever grateful.

Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

Podcast: BLM Organizer La Mikia Castillo on Systemic Change and Dismantling Racism

Early Link Podcast Episode 21

In this week’s episode, host Rafael Otto talks with La Mikia Castillo, a Black Lives Matter activist and community organizer, about what it looks like to dismantle systemic racism.  

Guest

La Mikia Castillo is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and an organizer with Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles.

Summary

Castillo clarifies the message around defunding the police and shares how we can start to reimagine a new idea of safety. She also explains the ways in which systemic racism has impacted the health and education of Black children and children of color and what it will take to see real change in these institutions. Finally, Castillo shares her idea of what a world free of racism would look like for her and her son.

Resources:

Please visit our Racial Equity Resources for Early Childhood page for more information on racial justice and equity issues that connect to early childhood. It is not comprehensive, but will be updated regularly.

Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Notable Oregon philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer, who passed away on April 4, 2020 at the age of 91, was perhaps best known for her lifetime of support for the arts. Arlene’s commitment to women’s health and children’s issues may be less recognized among the broader public, but at Children’s Institute, we are very aware of, and grateful for, this thread in her giving.

Gary Withers, Children’s Institute’s first president, co-founder, and long-time board member, worked with Arlene on many projects. “When CI was in its earliest stages, we had a meeting with Arlene to tell her about the project and ask for her support. And Arlene said, ‘Well, let’s just add up how much we’ve given annually and recently to causes related to children.’ And of course at that time, Harold and Arlene were well known for their support for OHSU and the arts. But we were adding up their contributions to causes just related to kids, and I’m not sure whether it was over one year or two or three years, but it was millions! And I sat there and I thought, Well this is the story that nobody knows.”

Arlene became a founding member of the Children’s Institute board, helping to shape the vision for work that improved the lives of many Oregon children and families. According to Withers, Arlene chose this work because “She loved the concept that if we invest in early childhood, that we would be able to avoid a lot of the downstream challenges that children face, particularly children with high adverse childhood experience scores. She was a believer in the power of mitigation that is inherent in great early childhood programming.”

CI’s Early Works initiative in particular meant a great deal to Arlene, as she knew it made a tangible difference for families. “She and Harold spent time visiting national models, but were committed to an approach that would engage with public schools and meet the specific needs of Oregon children,” recalls Adarkar.  

“Arlene and Harold had a really strong bond to this community,” says Barbara Hall, who worked with Arlene for 36 years, eventually becoming the executive director of The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. “They were true Portlanders. They were both from immigrant families that came from Russia, and I think they were interesting because they were not raised with great wealth. They really earned that wealth, and they felt very strongly that this community was what allowed them to flourish. So they gave to every nonprofit in the city that they felt helped make the city a better place to live.”

Arlene was interested in improving quality of life, and she liked to be able to see the results. She felt that improving the lives of families was one of the surest ways to strengthen the community she felt so connected to. Her giving was pragmatic; she asked, “What project would have a direct impact on my neighbors?” and then she chose a leader she believed in, whose work was solving the problems she saw as important.  

Swati Adarkar, president and CEO of Children’s Institute, was one of those leaders, and enjoyed a special relationship with Arlene. “When we started CI,” Adarkar says, “I had no plan to become the executive director. I’d envisioned partnership, rather than a CEO. I had two young kids at the time. Arlene believed in mentoring and encouraging women to take leadership roles and helped build my confidence, because she was such a strong and fearless leader. I watched how she would pick her moments to strategically express her point of view and how effectively she could persuade those around her to be bolder and more courageous.” 

“Arlene put a lot of faith in Swati,” says Hall. “She really felt like CI’s work was the first thing Swati thought of when she woke up in the morning, and she probably noodled it until she fell asleep at night—what she wanted to do to make a difference, using Children’s Institute as the vehicle to help make that happen.”

Withers agrees. “Arlene had a level of trust and confidence in Swati and the mission and vision of Children’s Institute that allowed her to remain a very long-term investor even as the issues that Arlene faced with her health, and the complexity of the issues being addressed by Children’s Institute, began to eclipse what she could attend to personally.”

Adarkar deeply appreciates the trust. “Arlene was the kind of rare supporter who identified the issues she cared about and the people she trusted to move the work forward. She empowered me and the rest of CI staff to do what we knew needed to be done.”  

Generosity and the spirit of community will be such an important part of Arlene’s legacy. “As a philanthropist and as a person,” says Hall, “Arlene never met a problem that she didn’t want to try and help fix. Never. And I love that about her. She always had room for one more thing on her plate. That was probably what I loved about her the most. She was never numb to anything.”  

Withers echoed this sentiment: “Arlene had a way of making friends for life. It was her authenticity, and her integrity, and her candor. The word ‘philanthropy’ means love of humankind, and she had this huge heart that just really loved people.” 

At Children’s Institute, we hope our ongoing work is an expression of our gratitude to Arlene for her role in the development and health of our organization. We will miss her humor, warmth, sharp instincts, and commitment to making our state a more vibrant and healthy place to be a child.

On Purpose: Stories from the Lives of Oregon Nonprofit Leaders

On Purpose: Stories from the Lives of Oregon Nonprofit Leaders

On Purpose, a new book by David Dickson, profiles thirty-four Oregon nonprofit leaders, and features Swati Adarkar, CI’s president and CEO, in the chapter titled, “The Pragmatic Idealist.”

Dickson writes of Adarkar’s childhood trips to India, which shaped her understanding of justice, equity, and opportunity. “I became increasingly concerned with addressing poverty and social mobility, the balance between individual responsibility and what we owe to the community,” Adarkar is quoted as saying. Dickson shares that Adarkar’s worldview is at the “intersection of idealism, values, and what can be accomplished.” 

The chapter discusses key strategies and victories in Children’s Institute’s history. Among these are the launch of Early Works, in which demonstration sites in Portland and Yoncalla address the achievement gap by focusing on strategies to affect school readiness, as well as key legislative victories such as securing $39 million to expand Oregon’s Head Start program and a first-time state grant of $1 million for Early Head Start.

 

Cover of the book On Purpose

Other leaders featured in On Purpose include Duncan Campbell, CI founding board member and founder of the mentoring program Friends of the Children; Alberto Moreno, who began the Oregon Latino Health Coalition with the goal of serving undocumented women who were ineligible for prenatal health care; and Kelly Poe, who laid the groundwork for the creation of the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery, which has had great success serving the families of remote Malheur County.

Order a copy of the book here.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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