Government support isn’t a new idea, although it is an idea that many resist. In the Public Agenda survey, respondents said that access to child care should be the responsibility of the families themselves, rather than the government or employers. Respondents also said that having one parent at home is the best child-care arrangement. However, two-thirds of parents said that having one parent stay home is an unrealistic option in today’s world. So if the best care is the kind that many parents are unable to provide, wouldn’t it be in their best interest to support government policies that would help establish and maintain high-quality child-care facilities? We support public schools. Why shouldn’t we support early childhood care?
“We know it’s expensive,” says Espinosa. “That’s why we need both government and corporate help. It should be a given that children and families are a priority. We should honor and respect them.” Espinosa continues, “We can’t do it alone. In Europe, child-care providers are paid the same as elementary-school teachers. They have the same education and training that a teacher would have. We should support that here.”
“I think subsidies would work,” says Eicher. “Then you would get quality because you would get trained people.” Signer concurs: “The government has to help pay for it. It’s too expensive for families to do alone. Every other industrialized nation supports infant and toddler care much more than we do.”
In his book The Four-Thirds Solution: Solving the Childcare Crisis in America, Stanley Greenspan recommends some ways the government could help. He suggests tax breaks and other government incentives to companies that institute child-friendly practices. The government could also fund education programs, directly subsidize day care or offer other incentives, institute welfare policies that support mothers to care for their young children themselves, and offer funding to communities that take responsibility for providing every child with nurturing relationships. “The government can increase the standards for child-care programs and provide support for training child-care professionals,” adds Keyser.
The business community could institute employer-sponsored child care and allow flexible work schedules. “Both government and the private sector can provide financial support, vouchers, subsidized child-care programs, on-site child care, and benefit packages that include child care,” says Keyser. “Employment practices should support working parents; part-time, job-sharing, and work-at-home options; and generous sick and family leave.”
The NCJW report states that the “child-care problems this country faces are so deeply embedded that our collective energies, brainpower, and resources will be necessary to solve them.” It calls for “the establishment of a partnership between government, private industry, educators, nonprofit organizations, and parents to commit to making child care a priority.”
“Both the government and the private sector stand to gain from investing in children and families. Supporting the current workforce and nurturing the future workforce will surely contribute to a healthy population and economy,” observes Keyser.
Notable examples demonstrating high-quality care can be found at centers on community college campuses scattered throughout five regions in California (see sidebar). A partnership between the California Department of Education (CDE) and WestEd is supporting these centers to serve as training and demonstration programs for early childhood providers, students, and the greater community.
This partnership started PITC (Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers) in 1985, after concluding that child-care services for children younger then three needed special attention. The project’s mission statement states that it is “committed to promoting responsive, caring relationships for infants and toddlers.” It points out that “many families today must depend on child care, but young children need more than just a safe place to be parked while adults go about their daily business. They need caregivers who understand how to nurture children in an emotionally secure and intellectually engaging group setting that helps provide a solid foundation for each child’s future development.”
To this end, WestEd, together with the CDE and PITC, created a comprehensive training system for both center-based and at-home child- care providers. Its goal is to develop “meaningful training materials that are based on sound theoretical principles and proven practices.” Good training increases the likelihood that providers are able to establish physically and emotionally safe environments for infants and toddlers.
PITC has grown to become California’s major provider of training in infant and toddler care. PITC, CDE, and WestEd have been at the forefront of national efforts to improve infant and toddler care, conducting training institutes and providing assistance to all Early Head Start programs in the country. Federal and state agencies and private foundations have looked to California for guidance to help meet the needs of families with young children. Due to California’s forward thinking, representatives from other countries as well as other states have requested materials, strategies, and advice.
“It’s important to educate the community about the importance of infant and toddler care,” says Espinosa. “The PITC demonstration program sites model good infant and toddler care.” Parents can come and observe the caregivers with their charges firsthand. “We also provide resources and support to parents to help them become the best parents that they want to be,” says Espinosa.
“Early childhood is such a critical time, we need to start paying attention to it,” says Espinosa. “If we do nothing … well, look at how many prisons we’re building. We can look back and see what happened. We have to make choices as a society. We have to give them the best that we can at the beginning. If we want productive citizens, where do we invest our time and money?” Signer agrees, adding, “We have no choice if we want good outcomes for our children.”
“We need to go to the top and say, ‘This is what we need; these are the voices of our children,’ ” Espinosa concludes passionately.