|Where is the Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Shocking news this week that we’re not taking care of the ones who care for our children, according to the Yale Child Study Center.
The child care crisis is even worse than we imagined. On top of being appallingly underpaid, early childhood teachers suffer added emotional and physical hardships because of their work and it appears to be killing them.
Nearly half of child care workers have high levels of depression and six out of 10 report feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s a health crisis wrapped in a child care crisis.
COVID death rates in 2020 for early care and education professionals were far above other essential workers and more than double that of K-12 teachers. “Early childhood care and education professionals have been experiencing severe stress throughout the pandemic,” said Walter Gilliam, senior author of the Yale study. “Their 2020 COVID-related death rate was among the highest for essential workers and about twice that of K-12 teachers who mostly stayed home during the beginning of the pandemic.”
Tragically, these deaths may be due to the fact that Pennsylvania child care professionals struggled to access vaccines since they are not given the same priority for vaccine access as K-12 teachers, even though many K-12 teachers had yet to return to in-person teaching during the pandemic. Child care workers couldn’t work remotely and practice social distancing in their line of work, but they were at the back of the line for vaccines to protect them.
The stress and deaths in the early care and education sector have led to a historic shortage of workers available to provide child care for young children. Just this week, we learned that over 100,000 workers are missing from the early care and education industry since February 2020. For those who have been left behind, the lure of higher wages and benefits in other industries is too hard to pass up.
The result is tens of thousands of Pennsylvania young children on waitlists, tens of thousands of children who should be learning and thriving instead and many thousands of parents who could be working.
As we start the long road of recovery from COVID, things have not gotten better for everyone. At a forum hosted by Children First, providers told county, state, and congressional leaders that they feel they’ve been left behind. Child care owner Kym Ramsey pleaded for help, “We need your support to help move us through this, for not only business owners, but for our community and other businesses who depend on us to be open so they can work.”
There is no question that both federal and state government responded during the pandemic with support for the early care and education industry with billions of dollars in emergency grants to providers. This year’s state budget includes $90 million for child care for retention and recruitment bonuses, which is great until you learn it’s a one-time-only boost funded by American Rescue Plan funds.
Long-term support for the child care sector is urgently needed, support consistent with the extraordinary subsidies provided to other critical industries like agriculture and energy. Strengthening child care will bring peace of mind to the dedicated teachers who care for our children – and the parents and employers who rely on them.