My husband Clarence and I have two daughters, Mackenzie (6) and Makayla (2). Makayla was born during the pandemic with a heart condition. Clarence was an essential worker, and we worried about keeping Makayla safe and healthy. She had two open-heart surgeries before turning 10 months old. As her family, we encourage her to explore and encourage her curiosity.
For the last nine years, I have worked at a nonprofit early learning center in downtown St. Louis that provides child care, as well as Early Head Start and Head Start. I am proud that we provide high-quality care, as I know how important that is for young children and their development. But, when our program is at capacity, I have trouble helping the families I work with find care because slots are limited. I try to help families explore other options, but children sit on wait lists—ours and others’—for months because there aren’t enough open spots or educators. Sometimes, they have access to some kind of care arrangement, but the truth is, access without quality isn’t access at all. Children need quality.
Working families like mine don’t have equal access to quality, affordable child care. Even with a discount from my job, we couldn’t afford the child care at my program, and we did not qualify for subsidies.
At the end of my maternity leave with Makayla, my husband and I were faced with no good options. My husband had to quit his job to care for Makayla for about five months so that I could return to work. Only then were we able to qualify for an Early Head Start program. Without his income, we struggled with paying bills and had to make difficult choices about how we spent our money. It was a relief when he was able to return to work, but it is still hard to make ends meet. We don’t qualify for other services, because we make “too much money.” When Makayla turns 3, she will age out of Early Head Start, and there is a gap before she will be able to join the program that her sister attends on scholarship. We are worried about how we will manage the transition.
All babies and toddlers need high-quality care while their families work. Congress should be investing in child care, Early Head Start and Head Start, and in building a system that works for families, providers and young children.
Learn more about our commitment to early care and education as a public good in the State of Babies Yearbook: 2023.