There is a vicious storm brewing in our communities, and if we don’t stabilize our foundation, we will experience the repercussions for years, possibly decades. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen record-breaking unemployment, extreme economic instability and unfathomable toxic stress.
Stay-at-home orders brought school and child care closures with the impact of the pandemic creating great hardship on communities of color, especially on our single working parents and low-income families. Parents fortunate to have kept their jobs are employed in lower wage, high-risk work, but require safe, quality child care for their children in order to remain employed. How do we help these families?
One step towards easing the working parent’s burden is to ensure access to quality, affordable child care. Lasting child care funding is needed. To effectually sustain the family structure alongside economic stability, families need a well thought-out plan from leaders. These families need child care in order to return to work or find employment, which nationwide there’s an 8.6% unemployment rate, but African American and and Latinx workers have suffered substantially higher rates of 13% and 12.9%, respectively.
At the forefront are single, hardworking African American and Latina mothers. Many are doing all they can to get by and care for their children, from struggling to put food on the table to keeping a roof over their family’s head. Many don’t have a dual income to fall back on, so work is essential to their survival, and impossible without child care.
Failure to respond to the critical child care needs of today will have paramount consequences for our children tomorrow. These troubling times accentuate the urgency necessary to serve our most vulnerable. Without an intentional investment in the growing child care need, a resurgence of despair and greater achievement gaps will be eminent. In 15 or 20 years, our workforce will be these same children, who without supports and intervention, will be severely impacted.
Along with making quality, affordable child care more accessible, we must ensure child care provider stability. Roughly 41% of Los Angeles County’s providers have closed their doors due to COVID-19 according to the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles. Many may not re-open due to the economic hardship associated with lower enrollments, increased costs of doing business due to new health and safety requirements and low reimbursement rates.
Perpetual violence towards African Americans by the hands of law enforcement in the wake of the pandemic has exposed traumatic realities to our youngest children. This trauma is foundationally rooted in the historic institutional barriers disproportionately impacting African American and Latinx families. This has left many parents and child care providers without the words to help children cope, let alone process themselves.
This situation resonates with Los Angeles families who reside in one of the most densely populated low-income communities in California. This is true for the nearly 40,000 Crystal Stairs families, with 98% being single parents.
As a First 5 California commissioner, I have committed to speaking boldly for the underrepresented children, families, early care and education workforce of California. We have provided emergency supplies and funding, but more is still needed to support the most vulnerable among us.
If we do nothing, if we don’t provide increased supports and acknowledge the value and role these African American and Latina women play as the backbone of economic recovery, we are looking at decades of impact to our youth.
This is an incredible opportunity, we must rise to the occasion and improve outcomes. Ensure quality, affordable child care opportunities and provide the necessary safety nets and services these families need to make it through these tough times and beyond.
Jackie B. Majors is CEO at Crystal Stairs, Inc., a child development organization serving 40,000 Los Angeles families. She also serves as commissioner for First 5 California, is an adjunct instructor in the child development department for the Los Angeles Community College District and serves as chair of the Los Angeles County Policy Roundtable for Child Care and Development to make policy recommendations to the Board of Supervisors as it relates to improving the early childhood and education system county-wide.