April 12-18 is The Week of the Young Child. I am celebrating by encouraging people who don’t usually think about early childhood education, to consider how important high-quality programs are for all children.
For many families child care is a necessity, not a luxury. Every week in the United States, nearly 11 million children younger than five are in some type of child care arrangement. The cost of this child care can be overwhelming to many families. It’s not just low-Income families that struggle, but middle income families as well. Child Care Aware investigated the cost of child care in each state and found the average cost of infant care ranged from $4,511 – $16,549, and for a four year old it ranged from $3,981 – $9,904. Many families pay as much for child care as they would to send their child to a state university. While there are a few subsidies to help defray the cost, many families don’t qualify and the wait for program openings can be long. Offering high quality child care requires a well trained staff who have access to many resources, and many of the programs out there fall short of the mark.
Why should you care if quality child care is affordable? Maybe you no longer have young children, or perhaps one parent can stay home with the kids, or perhaps your income is high enough so that it is not an undue burden. Ensuring quality child care for all doesn’t just benefit the families who enroll- high-quality child care benefits everyone.
Research continues to show that the years from 0-5 are crucial for a child’s brain development. On average, children in child care spend on average 36 hours a week in care outside the home. High quality programs employ teachers who know how to nurture children at each stage of development. This nurturing environment ensures that each child’s brain has the opportunity to develop to its full potential. When it comes to brain development, prevention is better than remediation. By the time a child enters kindergarten, much brain development has already occurred. Investment in quality early childhood education:
- prepares children to succeed in school and thereby earn more, pay more taxes and commit fewer crimes when they become adults.
- reduces the incidence of challenging behaviors which can impact the school experience for all children
In effect, investing in early education reduces the costs that taxpayers must bear later in life. Studies have shown that one dollar invested in quality early childhood programs can save up to $13.00 in later costs. The long term benefits of quality early childhood programs are more cost effective than many other programs which are fully funded by the government.
While families bear much of the burden of paying for quality child care, many times the teachers are subsidizing the cost through low wages. The average annual income for child care workers is $21,320. More and more child care workers have at least a bachelors or associates degree, yet on average they are paid less than animal care and fast food workers. If teachers were paid according to their education, experience, and service provided, the cost would more than double! Low wages leads to staff turnover, a less skilled workforce, and therefore a lower quality program.
Many states, including Texas, are considering funding universal access to quality half-day pre-kindergarten. This is a good start as it has the potential to provide high-quality programs for every 4 year old who enrolls. I hope that you will support the efforts to fund these programs. But while universal pre-k is a great start, we need to look for ways to provide high-quality early education programs for all children who need them.
“Child Care in America: 2014 State Fact Sheets”; Child Care Aware; http://www.usa.childcareaware.org
“Early Childhood Education for All”; Leslie Calman and Linda Tarr-Whelan; Legal Momentum; 2005; web.mit.edu/workplacecenter/docs/Full%20Report.PDF