Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. last year, it has become clear that the U.S. child care system is broken. The child care crisis brought on by the pandemic has been a disaster for women’s participation in the workforce and, by extension, for gender equality and the economy as a whole. But our child care system has long been inadequate when it comes to meeting the needs of working parents.

On March 24, 2021, the Wellesley Centers for Women hosted “Crisis and Opportunity: Building a Better Child Care System,” a virtual Social Change Dialogue, to discuss what the Biden-Harris administration has done so far to support the child care industry, and what still needs to be done.

The panel was moderated by WCW Executive Director Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., and included Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., senior research scientist at WCW, and Kimberly D. Lucas, Ph.D., senior director of civic research and innovation at MetroLab Network. (Panelist Autumn Green, Ph.D., research scientist at WCW, was unable to participate.)

The discussion began by focusing on the need to get child care providers who had been hurt by the pandemic back up and running, with clear, equitable and standard guidance on health and safety protocols. Without child care that allows parents to work, women who have left the workforce cannot return and the economy cannot get back on its feet.

“The fact that the Biden-Harris administration recognizes the importance of care work as work is a great first step,” said Lucas. “This framing signals an understanding of how child care actually ties to much of our lives.”

When it comes to longer-term goals that would reshape the child care landscape, Robeson spoke about her wish list: national standards for providers, free universal pre-K, expanded Head Start availability, and no family forced to spend more than 7% of their income on child care. Some of these goals are on the table now with the American Rescue Plan recently passed by Congress, and with the expected additional push by the White House for more support for child care providers and families.

“We need to continue the growth and the trajectory that we're on so that no families are in poverty,” said Robeson. “No families are left behind, and no children are left behind.”

The panelists discussed broader policy areas that impact early childhood care and education — from housing policy to the wage gap — and pointed out that child care policy affects everyone, including those who don’t have children. They also talked about the need for collaboration between early childhood educators and K-12 educators to ensure a seamless and stable pathway from birth to high school graduation. And they emphasized the need to listen to both families and educators going forward.

“We need to not just listen to people, but to put what they say into actual policy,” said Robeson.

Resources from the program:

March 30, 2021

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