The Voices That Should Inform Change-Process In Our Child Care System
By Peggy Kelly, Executive Director, Kansas Head Start Association.
Originally published in the Winter 2021 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.
Long before COVID-19 completely redesigned our lives and view of what “normal” meant, the discussion of what child care in the United States is, or should be, had been going on below ground. The first time someone raised the issue of inadequacies in our child care system with me was way back in the 1990s. New to having child care subsidy case work in my area of responsibility, I thought it was pretty cool that we were able to pay providers to care for the children of public-assistance and low-income families.
To learn that other countries provided so much more in terms of parental leave or subsidized child care was a bit of a surprise. The wonderment of how to do this differently has been in the back of my mind ever since. Conversations about what could or should be have ebbed and flowed over the years without a clear picture emerging of what a child care system that truly works would look like.
COVID has made people acutely aware of the role that child care plays in our society. Parents who are essential employees have had to figure out how to keep their children safe while they go to work.
Parents who can work from home have had to figure out how to be child care providers and schoolteachers while also participating in endless Zoom calls and accomplishing other work tasks. This moment has brought attention and appreciation for the work that child care providers and preschool teachers do every day.
Employers are much more aware of the essential role that child care providers play in the success of their company. Before COVID, the economic development world was struggling with child care supply as a factor in attracting new business to their communities. Meanwhile many child care providers are struggling to maintain their business due to low enrollment and the cost of sanitation and protective supplies.
Who has been missing from the tables where discussions about the child care system have been taking place? Often it has been parents and providers. How do we bring these essential voices into the room? How have we been going about the work to address policies and practices that drive our system? Have the meetings been held at 9 a.m. or 3 p.m. during the workweek? How often have they been in the evening or on a weekend? Does Zoom offer new opportunities for engaging providers while they care for their charges?
Intentionally inviting parents and providers into the conversations to cast a new vision for our child care system will bring vital perspectives of how the system works. Provider compensation and child care rates, hours of care, location, accessibility, and transportation are all issues that parents and providers are challenged with and equipped to influence.
We must authentically engage parents and providers as the influential people in the room. The practice of starting every discussion by first speaking with those closest to the child will drastically change the conversations. When conversations change, solutions will change as well.
Peggy is the Executive Director of the Kansas Head Start Association. She has continued the work of KHSA to create opportunities for parents to advocate and support their voice in issues around children, families and early childhood services. She has specifically worked to build a network of parent advocates who can encourage other parents to find their voice. Prior to working with Head Start she directed TANF and Community Collaboration programs with the State of Kansas and was a Medical Social Worker.