July 1, 2020
“Business leaders and policymakers are finally beginning to understand the essential need for child care. They finally see it as an essential service; however, we are worried that policymakers will focus on building up the system we had, rather than investing in a system that is high-quality and addresses all needs.”
– Gerry Cobb, Director, Pritzker Children’s Initiative
Emphasizing the centrality of early care and education to the American economy was a key theme during the first installment of The Hunt Institute’s new series, Early Childhood Philanthropy Amidst COVID-19. The series will explore the priorities being set forth by early childhood grant makers during a period marked by not only the pandemic, but an economic recession and nationwide protests over racial injustice.
During this first installment, The Hunt Institute sat down with Megan Wyatt of the Bezos Family Foundation, Gerry Cobb of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, and Marica Cox Mitchell of the Bainum Family Foundation, for a conversation about the most pressing challenges in early childhood, as well as working with grantees to create innovative solutions.
Opening the discussion was Megan Wyatt, who serves as the Managing Director of Strategy and Programs for the Bezos Family Foundation. In her opening remarks, Wyatt stated that while the priorities of Bezos have remained consistent, several lessons have been learned in recent months, including the need to stress the salience of equity, support educators through increased family engagement, and think about how online and digital tools can be used to create blended learning models to enhance early education.
Gerry Cobb, the Director of The Pritzker Children’s Initiative, stressed that the pandemic has revealed that providers must be adequately paid; Cobb also stated the need for foundations, policymakers, and stakeholders to focus on home-based care, virtual home-visiting, and maternal depression. Finally, Cobb discussed the need to think about children and families of color, as Pritzker is working with states and localities to think strategically about reducing disparities in quality of and access to child care and pre-natal care.
Another theme in the conversation pertained to providing flexibility to grantees to adjust to the conditions of the pandemic. Marica Cox Mitchell, the Director of Early Learning at the Bainum Family Foundation, discussed how Bainum has adapted quickly to the environment resulting from the pandemic. Bainum has provided flexibilities to partners so they could work with the communities they know well. Cox Mitchell stressed one challenge that the pandemic has brought forth, and that challenge is that existing inequities in the child care system keep growing and must be addressed.
“We’re in a period of major disruption and we need to be deliberate about how we approach this. We really don’t know yet about preserving access to child care. We need more data and better data about quality and equity and the gaps.”
– Megan Wyatt, Managing Director of Programs and Strategy, Bezos Family Foundation
Having strong data is necessary for policymakers and stakeholders to truly understand the challenges that lie within the child care system. With a solid understanding of challenges, policymakers and stakeholders can come to the table and make informed decisions, but those decisions must also be made while considering the perspectives of all who would be affected.
As stated by Marica Cox Mitchell, many stakeholders still don’t have a seat at the table for many important child care-related decisions, including members of the early childhood workforce, specifically members of color. As a workforce that historically has been underpaid, the early childhood workforce has gained recognition during the pandemic for the work it has done and the risks it has taken working on the front lines. This recognition, as stated by Cox Mitchell, will lead workers to be more vocal about their demands as child care centers reopen throughout the country:
“As child care workers return to work, we are expecting that higher compensation will be non-negotiable for many of them. We also need to think about the working conditions for child care workers; they will be asking a lot of questions about this as they return to work, particularly around their own health, safety, and mental well-being.”
Policymakers and employers will need to think carefully about these conversations as child care centers reopen, as conversations around recruitment and retention will likely emerge. Additionally, since the early childhood workforce is aging, many members may not return to child care centers as long as there are risks of contracting COVID-19; this will impact conversations around how child care systems will recruit and retain their workforces with this expected attrition.
“This system was already broken before the pandemic. We need to rethink components of the current system and build a better system.”
– Marica Cox Mitchell, Director of Early Learning, Bainum Family Foundation
In her closing remarks, Gerry Cobb discussed ways the child care system can learn from the pandemic and improve going forward, stating the need to reduce racial disparities, reach out to families of color, and closely examine disaggregated data to inform decision-making going forward. Megan Wyatt closed the discussion by stressing the need to keep conversations around prenatal in mind, as a child’s development is impacted by the mother’s experience while expecting.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought immense challenges to the child care industry, forcing businesses throughout the country to close while creating great financial stress for those that remain open. The pandemic has also revealed the prominent role child care plays in the American economy, a notion that was true before the pandemic. Understanding and appreciating the salience of child care must remain front-and-center for the system to improve in the immediate- and long-term, as the efforts to make such improvements will require intense commitments from more stakeholders than ever.
View the complete webinar below.