You’re the engine that makes all things go
And you’re always in disguise, my hero
I see your light in the dark
“Good Job” –Alicia Keys
As a former early childhood teacher and current associate professor of early childhood education, I am concerned, to put it mildly, about essential education professionals being overlooked or discounted in discussions and policies for P-12 teachers and brick and mortar schools. There are thousands of families depending on home daycare providers to teach and care for their children. I suspect the need has increased since this health pandemic, and those in dire need are families who live in poverty and the working poor, a disproportionate percentage of whom are Black and Latinx.
These lyrics from Alicia Keys’ latest single “Good Job” captures rather pointedly the essential work of home daycare professionals. They graciously open their homes as developmentally appropriate places and spaces that are carefully designed and created to serve and support our youngest learners and their families. These home daycare professionals are, as Keys sings, the “engine that makes all things go.” In-home daycare professionals allow the families of the children they serve to continue working as they risk their lives daily on the frontlines to ensure that their children do not experience any loss in learning. The threat of lost learning looms with the continued spreading of coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) that has resulted in countless child care centers and schools closing and remaining closed through the end of the school year, if not longer.
Despite these school closings, the dedication and commitment of these unsung essential workers and the goods and services they provide (i.e., quality education and care) are often described and misinterpreted as merely “babysitting.” This mischaracterization disguises and relegates the invaluable work of daycare professionals who are primarily women, and disproportionately women of color (e.g., Black and Latinx), to the shadows of non-essential work. The devaluing of their work is reflected in low wages, lack of or inadequate health insurance, and lack of any financial savings amid the loss of jobs and the fear of losing their jobs.
My life’s work shines a light of deep appreciation on these unsung heroes whose essential work of relating to and engaging children includes, but is not limited to the very thoughtful and creative ways in which they teach every child as if they were their own — a deep concern and care for those children entrusted in their care, determining what is developmentally appropriate academically, and the handling of daily routines while ensuring that every child is seen, heard and valued. What is necessary to allow others to see their “light in the dark” requires a better understanding of the unparalleled dedication, commitment, and compassion home daycare professionals give to children and their families from underserved and historically marginalized communities daily and tirelessly.
Home daycare professionals and their in-home daycare programs — family daycares — play an essential role in the lives of children, especially children from historically marginalized communities. However, problematic and concerning is that in-home daycare programs are neither a part of the childcare industry (i.e., big corporations/franchises) nor small business and, therefore, operate outside of the scope of state and federal support to qualify for COVID-19 stimulus money; yet, they are undeniably essential workers who provide our youngest and most vulnerable learners with quality education, active learning, and care.
The necessary work that they do places them squarely on the frontlines during the pandemic as they are vital to countless Black and Brown communities. The families who rely on these home daycare programs are our other unsung heroes, such as sanitation workers, postal workers, city bus drivers, home delivery workers, grocery store and drugstore clerks, food service providers, janitorial/housekeeping workers, and essential home daycare professionals. Despite their essential work, the heroes who have dominated the news and other media outlets (not that they anyway are undeserving of this recognition) have been doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who may not necessarily rely on in-home daycare programs to educate their children. Importantly, when the essential work of daycare professionals do not receive the recognition they so rightfully deserve nor the emergency financial assistance needed, the risk of permanently closing their home daycare increases. Without such a financial boost, much of the home daycare sector will be shuttered indefinitely. This loss of needed access and opportunity to early education and care like other disparities (e.g., healthcare, unemployment, limited resources-food, Internet access for online learning) exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, in effect, communicates what schooling has historically conveyed to Black and Brown families and their children — they are unworthy and undeserving of access to quality education and care.
The potential threat of losing this long-neglected and yet immeasurable service to our economic and public infrastructure, in-home/family daycare programs places in serious jeopardy access to early education and care for communities of color. Such a loss threatens the stability of families and their children’s education. If emergency financial assistance fails to stabilize the consistency and continuity of early education and care that many families of color count on from these essential daycare professionals, then academic gains made will be forever lost. The academic achievement gap cycle continues and threatens to widen while advocates and other leaders in the field of early childhood are calling on state and federal government to provide emergency stimulus money to assist child-care programs, little is known about how this money will be allotted to the range of early education and care programs, which includes in-home daycare programs. Data from two national leaders in the education of young children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Early Care and Education Consortium suggests that early education and care programs across the nation “lost nearly 70% of their daily attendance in one week during the pandemic” (Hurley, 2020, p. 2). This loss of income will impact the bottom line for in-home daycare professionals who were already operating on a shoestring budget prior to COVID-19.
While the economic stimulus bill — the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — provides some financial relief for the child-care industry, in-home daycare programs, as mentioned above, operate outside of the scope of corporate daycare programs (i.e., franchises) and small business; therefore, the essential work of in-home daycare professionals is without the financial support necessary to remain in the business of educating our youngest and most vulnerable learners with access to a quality early education. Given this reality, the claim that the CARES Act works for all Americans raises a fundamental question –who is really included in the notion of “All”? If the claim that the CARES Act does, in fact, include “All Americans,” then the development of Black and Brown children within the context of their families require local, state, and federal governments and others with decision making power to operate within an alternative ideology involving a deliberate focus on the importance of always recognizing the diverse contexts in which children and families are embedded. In-home daycare professionals must be placed at the center of decision-making and not an afterthought. Failure to do so serves only to undermine the vital work of these unsung essential workers who deserve, like all other frontline heroes, to be rewarded for their bravery in the face of often unimaginable circumstances and situations.
Unfortunately, longstanding neglect of Black and Brown families is further exacerbated in situations like COVID-19 shining a light on structural racism and longstanding inequalities with regard to the unequal distribution of wealth and resources that limit access and opportunities for Black and Brown children. This is an all too familiar scene that has been foreground for the countless number of P-12 students who have found themselves in situations where remote learning leaves much to be desired. Inequity has reared its ugly head. This is especially true when consideration is given to the child with their own desktop computer, laptop, e-tablet, a cellular phone with home office WiFi signals, and bandwidths that rival with some major institutions (e.g., schools and colleges). In addition to challenges related to the concept and practice of remote learning and the notion that online learning is “learning anytime and anywhere” and thus, available to all, hundreds of thousands of children; in particular, those from underserved communities, have not only endured technology challenges that have continued to leave them behind academically, but they are also experiencing an increase in food insecurity due to living in a food desert. Together, they are faced again with ongoing threats to their self-actualization in the way of their promise, potential, and possibilities. Unlike their more affluent peers, they lack those resources necessary to thrive in this time of unprecedented remote/online learning.
Amid these and other issues of deep social and academic inequities, how do we support the vital work of all educators, but especially the thousands of in-home daycare professionals as they work with limited resources based on an already limited budget to ensure that loss of learning is minimized? The answer to this layered question is particularly precarious for home daycare professionals who have become consistent staples in— and the backbone of — countless working-class communities where their essential service known to many as in-home daycare is the only form of a licensed or non-licensed early education and care program that many children will have access and opportunity to attend prior to public kindergarten.
In the same way that we cannot afford to lose the essential services of in-home daycare programs provided by countless home daycare professionals, the U.S. cannot afford further deterioration of children’s learning. This unprecedented time, although full of immense challenges, also offers some opportunities to (re)imagine how to not merely survive this pandemic but thrive to ensure that, together, we all — especially those on the frontlines — make it to the other side of this health crisis with no more lives lost due to a history of intractable inequalities such as limited access to healthcare, unemployment, and food insecurities symptomatic of a society that tends to acknowledge the better angels of its existence.
What can we do to ensure that these unsung in-home daycare professionals who are the backbone of many communities can continue to provide this essential service to deserving and precious children? How do we avoid the loss of in-home daycare professionals as valuable human capital? My recommendations include, but are not limited to the following:
- Provide financial support not only to the child care industry that largely consists of corporate child care centers but to in-home daycare professionals as well.
- Provide increased pay and health care insurance for all child care professionals, including in-home daycare professionals.
- Ensure unemployment insurance for in-home daycare professionals.
- Pass paid family and medical leave and paid sick days for families. They need the ability to help their children; the stress must be relieved for them to do so.
- Provide additional support for all families, with deliberate attention to the most vulnerable. This includes nutrition assistance, housing assistance, and direct cash assistance.
If careful consideration is given to these recommendations on behalf of all in-home daycare professionals, then the message will be conveyed that they do indeed matter, and this is our individual and collective praise for a “Good Job!”
Kendra, H. (2020, March 28). The last daycares standing.
Dr. Brian L. Wright is an associate professor and program coordinator of Early Childhood Education at the University of Memphis and the author of the award-winning book, The Brilliance of Black Boys: Cultivating School Success in the Early Grades published by Teachers College Press/Columbia University.