Community Matters: Let’s Finally Give Our Unsung Heroes What They Need to Save the Day

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It is not often that we see the opportunity for a major cultural shift in our society unfold before our eyes.

One of the many inequities that the COVID-19 pandemic elucidated was in the child care system, which represents larger gender and racial imbalances in our nation. Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia have made great investments in expanding access to child care, and must continue to support our child care heroes to save the day.

Mothers have historically been responsible for caring for children, even when more women began to work outside of the home. According to The History of Child Care in the U.S. by Sonya Michel, Ph.D: at the end of the 19th century, mostly low income families used child care services and the philanthropic sector and mother’s pensions were provided to assist with the loss of income when there was not a male breadwinner.

Under the New Deal, Emergency Nursery Schools (ENS) were established, yet during World War II, “children’s experts warned parents that children in group care might suffer the effects of ‘maternal deprivation’ and urged them to maintain tranquil home environments to protect their children from the war’s upheaval.” In subsequent years, attitudes changed and the child care tax credit was introduced and there was more focus on early childhood education during child care.

In their May 27 Progressive Voice column, Arbora Johnson and Victoria Virasingh clearly outlined a number of challenges faced by Arlington parents during the pandemic and how Arlington can do more to help families with child care. In order to solve the child care crisis, it is also imperative that we support child care providers and early education teachers who had low wages and vacancies even before the pandemic, as they both are essential components to quality, affordable child care.

A December 2020 survey found that 60% of child care workers reported that their site-reduced expenses included implementing pay cuts. Many child care workers are minority females, who are already more vulnerable to economic inequities. These strains on the system are dire and unsustainable, not only for minorities, but also American society.

The recent uptick in the federal commitment to providing resources for child care has been instrumental to the sector, yet these funds are temporary. Long term changes to the system are needed. On July 1, the oversight of child care services in Virginia will be transferred from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education which shows a commitment to early childhood education, a critical equalizer. Arlington County has also made important changes through our Child Care Initiative.

The Virginia Promise Partnership is a coalition of 30 organizations committed to affordable (no more than 7% of income), quality child care for all Virginia families by 2030. Success will take us a long way towards correcting gender and racial disparities for the child care industry and for society. As we work towards this bold goal, let’s not forget our heroes who will make it happen.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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