Saving Space for Babies
As the nation begins to look to the fall of 2020, families, child care programs, school districts and policymakers are shaping the environments in which children of all ages will spend the coming months. COVID-19 will likely move many districts online in August and September, driving a need for child care slots for school age children while their families work.
State infant toddler advocates are grappling with how to ensure quality spaces for school age children without compromising slots for younger children:
• Will the appeal of offering multiple slots with fewer teachers lead current infant and toddler care providers to convert classrooms?
• Will early learning providers decide it is easier to provide safe care for older children who can wear masks? Or that converting to school age care may convince wary child care teachers to return to the classroom?
• Will adding increased flexibility with existing state Child Care and Development Block Grant funds to enable care for school age children during the school day overtax the subsidy system and impact dollars previously allocated to infants and toddlers?
There are many ways states and communities can address these concerns, but states must act quickly and be intentional in keeping the voices of babies and their families a part of these crucial conversations. Consider the following:
• First and foremost, this work will require new collaborations. Are the right people at the table to figure this out? Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association shares this collaboration example that includes multiple essential partners from Madison, Wisconsin.
“Madison community members started to address this issue early in the summer, with intentional conversations and collaborations between Out- of- School -Time (OST) leadership, child care leadership and the school district. Existing school age and child care providers will operate small classrooms in 30+ elementary schools across the city. The school district will financially support the hiring of paraprofessionals to assist with online learning, provide food and transportation to students. They will also cover cleaning of the facility. The OST provider will be there to support care for the entire day. Half of the elementary sites will be run by Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) already contracted to do After School care at these sites. The other half will be offered to child care and other OST providers. These sites will prioritize children by need and income. This model will help to alleviate the need for other early learning providers to make additional space in their programs as well as help all programs to meet CDC health and safety guidelines during the pandemic.”
• States should maintain or implement infant and toddler contracted slots to proactively manage the market and stabilize the industry. This will ensure that babies have safe spaces to attend child care in the fall.
• If funds are available, contract with existing school age providers to increase hours and expand to other sites. Resist efforts to place children in spaces that currently provide care for younger children if doing so would decrease needed infant-supply.
• Subsidize and provide additional incentives for infant and toddler care so that these classrooms can remain open for the families that need them.
• Insist on accurate data. It is essential that states and communities understand the number of infants and toddlers currently attending programs, the number of school age children who will need care and have an ongoing way to monitor changes as we enter the 2020 school year. Additionally, quality data may show that families of infants and toddlers are choosing alternate settings for care and open up spaces for older children, but without the data, we could unintentionally displace babies from high quality child care settings.
• Finally, protect current dollars that are used for infants and toddlers and insist on new funds for school age care offered during the school day. The harsh reality is that only 15% of eligible children are currently served by Child Care and Development Block Grant and a high percentage of those served are school-age children. The numbers were grim before this crisis.
ZERO TO THREE urges state policymakers and advocates to continue to keep the voices of infants and toddlers and their families at the front of these conversations during this trying time. Are you seeing good solutions in your state and community? Please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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