During this trying and difficult time, the child care industry has risen to help navigate this public health crisis by providing a safe space for our front-line workers to leave their children. Child care is, and always has been essential, and it will play a critical role as a foundation for future recovery.
Child care is critical community infrastructure and it’s connected to every aspect of our economy, yet it has been overlooked and underappreciated. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there was already a growing shortage of child care and preschool spaces across San Mateo County with close to 11,000 spaces needed for children ages birth to 4 years old, and a projected need of 14,000 by 2025. Now more than ever, we must work to preserve all existing spaces, or this already fragile sector may not be there to help us recover after the shelter-in-place order is relaxed.
While we know disparities have always existed in our county, this pandemic has heightened the awareness of the inequities and vulnerabilities in our community. The child care sector has long been overstrained and undervalued with predominantly women-owned small businesses and nonprofits working to meet the needs of the community. Child care is costly to operate and families often struggle to pay for it, while providers carve out at best a “living wage.” To make it through recent closures and economic hardships, child care providers are in dire need of substantial support.
We greatly appreciate the investments made through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help mitigate the impact of the current public health crisis on children, families, and child care providers. The emergency funding provided through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), along with other supports provided in the relief package, such as unemployment insurance provisions and loans for small businesses are certainly first steps in helping child care providers and families survive the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19. However, it isn’t nearly enough. As the scope and magnitude of the situation evolves, it is clear that additional support will be needed to reflect the essential status of child care providers in our communities.
Child care needs dedicated relief funding provided with flexibility for even the smallest center owners and family child care home-based providers who may not have resources available to even begin accessing the benefits in the federal relief package.
Early education advocates are asking Congress to include $50 billion in emergency funding to address the specific needs of early care and education providers, families and children in the next relief bill. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a longtime underinvestment in child care infrastructure. Our community and economy need child care providers to function, and now is the time to rise up and support this unique sector who deserve our respect and gratitude.
While Congress considers additional stimulus packages, locally, we have a rare opportunity to not only repair, but reimagine a sustainable child care system for San Mateo County. Local government, philanthropy and the business community can play a critical bridging role to ensure that these providers stay afloat during this difficult time, and work toward a timelier solution to not only preserve, but build up, our invaluable child care system.
San Mateo County, along with five neighboring counties, were the first in the nation to implement shelter-in-place due to the pandemic, and we couldn’t be prouder of our local leadership. As we led then, I hope we will continue to lead to ensure all our communities recover together. Now is the time to do what our county does best: collaborate, coordinate and support each other. Let’s build up San Mateo County for all our children and families.
Christine Padilla is the director of Build Up for San Mateo’s Children, a collaborative cross-sector initiative designed to grow and improve the supply of child care and preschool facilities in San Mateo County.