Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices) released a report that examines the structural barriers to access, quality, and stability of early child care in Connecticut. The report, “The State of Early Childhood During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” offers six short-term and seven long-term recommendations Connecticut can use to reimagine the child care industry as an essential public service and infrastructure, in order to address the longstanding barriers to child care and industry stability that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conjunction with the release of the report, CT Voices today hosted a press call and presentation to expound on the findings and recommendations that work to ensure universal access to high-quality early child care, with CT Voices Executive Director, Emily Byrne, Research and Policy Director, Lauren Ruth, and report author and MSW Research and Policy Intern, Sarah Miller.
“The fragility of our child care system has never been more apparent but it is essential infrastructure,” said Emily Byrne, Connecticut Voices for Children Executive Director. “High-quality early child care benefits all of us—it’s good for children, it’s good for communities, and it’s good for the economy. We need early care to get to work just like we need roads and bridges to get to work. If we want to rebuild our economy equitably, Connecticut needs to start investing in the state’s early care sector the same way we invest in other types of public infrastructure.”
As noted in the report and presentation, COVID-19’s historic disruption to Connecticut’s system of early care and education (ECE), as well as the longstanding challenges to the ECE sector in Connecticut, placed families, and working mothers especially, under extraordinary strain due to the temporary, and in many cases permanent, closure of ECE programs.
With closures and instability impacting not just families with young children, but the economy as a whole, there emerged a new recognition that early care and education is an essential public service that requires significantly more public investment to cover the true cost of providing high-quality care for our state’s youngest residents.
“The heightened public awareness of how essential child care is not only for children and families but for a functioning economy, has been one of the few silver linings of the pandemic,” said Sarah Miller, Connecticut Voices for Children MSW Research & Policy Intern and report author. “While it’s a very difficult time in so many ways, we are also in a moment where we are beginning to see a real shift toward policies that would address some of the longstanding inequities and structural challenges around early care and education in our state.”
In order to meet the needs of our youngest children and families, to ensure access to high-quality early care, as well as to improve program quality and stability of the sector overall, the State must address longstanding challenges in the ECE sector which include:
A shortage of child care slots
High cost of market-rate child care and inaccessibility of subsidies, such as Care 4 Kids, which make quality care out of reach to most families
Low wages for child care and early educators that undermine program quality, stability, and equity
“Child care is an essential industry and high-quality care keeps children safe, happy and healthy,” said Lauren Ruth, Connecticut Voices for Children Research and Policy Director. “Pre-pandemic, the system was already falling short of providing support and care to all young children and families. The pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of accredited programs to close because the system doesn’t sufficiently fund either quality or access.”
To stabilize child care providers financially and help families get back to work, the report proposes the following short-term recommendations:
Congress should pass President Biden’s recommendations in the American Families Plan to expand access to early care and education and economic support for families with children.
The OEC should assess the real cost of high-quality early care and education, based on a cost study–and the State and Federal governments should fund the real cost of care.
The OEC should facilitate the fiscal stability of early care and education by basing payment rates on the cost of quality and full enrollment, regardless of enrollment variations during the calendar year, and adding equity weights to these rates.
The Connecticut General Assembly should strengthen the economic model of family child care homes and expand families’ preschool options by extending access to School Readiness funds.
Connecticut policymakers should fill the wage gaps for early care and education workers via state subsidy programs.
The Federal government should ensure continued resources for access, quality, and stability beyond the initial pandemic recovery period.
To expand Connecticut’s system toward one in which all families have access to high-quality, affordable child care and in which early care providers and educators receive fair compensation, the report proposes the following long-term recommendations:
The Federal and State governments should work together to make early care and education affordable by permanently suspending Care 4 Kids family fees for families living in poverty, expanding eligibility, and establishing mechanisms to ensure that no family pays more than seven percent of income for care.
Connecticut policymakers should stabilize the economics of early care and education and encourage wider participation from child care programs in the subsidy system through a shift to payment via grants and contracts between providers and the State.
Child care providers should utilize back office services to streamline operations, create cost savings, and allow program leaders to focus on supporting staff, children, and families.
State policymakers should improve family access and understanding of systemic gaps and trends via streamlined data collection and reporting on available slots, child care deserts, and student and provider race and ethnicity.
State agencies should assess the long-term impact of early care and education on children, families, and communities via a holistic, performance-based system.
The Federal and State governments should establish early care and education as a secure, supported, family-sustaining career path.
The OEC should broadly define quality, in partnership with families, to ensure that priorities are based on evidence and respond to community needs.