[Watch] High-Quality Early Care and Education: Cost, Affordability & Racial Equity


Fed Communities Staff

Children at preschool pointing to globe

The pandemic highlighted the important role early care and education (ECE) plays in the economy. Without access to reliable child care, many parents (particularly mothers) left the workforce during the pandemic—and a substantial proportion of these parents have yet to return. ECE is key to parental employment and also aligns with the Federal Reserve’s maximum employment mandate. Research from the Minneapolis Fed shows that children (particularly those from disadvantaged environments) benefit from attending high-quality ECE programs.

This webinar presented by the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Atlanta includes insights from research on the cost of providing high-quality ECE, the challenges LMI families face in paying for it and racial and ethnic equity for families and ECE providers. Findings from focus group discussions with parents of young children and ECE providers will also be discussed. Watch on demand below and keep reading for the full transcript.


  • Sam Evans, community development advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
  • Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, vice president of national policy, Start Early
  • Marika Hamilton, mother and parent focus group facilitator
  • Dianne Haulcy, senior vice president of family engagement, Think Small
  • Suzie Lalich, Senior Director of Employee Success, PrintingForLess.com
  • Katherine Townsend, research analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
  • Matuschka Lindo Briggs, director of special projects and strategic support, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis moderator
Connecting Communities High-Quality Early Care and Education: Cost, Affordability & Racial Equity (video, 1:02:10).
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Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Good afternoon and welcome to Connecting Communities. Today’s webinar is High-Quality Early Care and Education: Cost, Affordability & Racial Equity. On slide two, I would now like to take the time to introduce our speakers for today. Katherine Townsend Kiernan, a research analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Sam Evans, a community development advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Marika Hamilton, a mother and parent focus group facilitator. Dianne Haulcy, senior vice president of Family Engagement at Think Small. Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, vice president of national policy at Start Early. Suzie Lalich, senior director of employee success at printingforless.com. I’m Matuschka Lindo Briggs, director of special projects and strategic support for the Community Development Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. I’ll serve as your moderator for our session today. Let’s move to slide three where we can take care of a few housekeeping items before we get started.

For the best webinar experience, we recommend you use the webstream to consume this live video event through your computer speakers. If you have technical issues, you are welcome to dial into the phone number posted on the player page, but the video will not sync perfectly with the phone audio. This session will be recorded and the presentation will be available on our Connecting Communities website. Also, in connection with this session, you can find a variety of additional resources available at www.fedcommunities.org. We will be taking audience questions during the event and we’d love to hear from you. To submit a question, all you have to do is use the Ask a Question button located on the webinar player page down on the left-hand side, or you can email us at communities@stls.frb.org. As we move to slide four, I need to go over our legal notice and disclaimer since this is a Fed webinar.

The opinions and statements expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and are intended only for informational purposes. They do not reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Finally, our mission on slide five. The mission of the Federal Reserve’s Community Development function is to promote economic growth and financial stability for low to moderate income individuals and communities. You can look at the map to see where your community development team is located. Our work is done through a range of activities, from conducting research and identifying emerging issues to developing resources and sharing ideas, as well as fostering collaboration and building partnerships. I would now like to turn the presentation over to my colleague Katherine Townsend Kiernan with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Katherine, the floor is yours.

Katherine Townsend Kiernan

Thank you so much for the introduction, Matuschka. I also want to say thank you on behalf of the Federal Reserve System’s Early Care and Education work group. We’re really grateful that you gave us the opportunity to share this work with you today. As Matuschka mentioned, I’m Katherine Townsend Kiernan. I’m a research analyst at the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. I also just want to reiterate the legal notice that the views expressed today are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. I’m going to give a brief background of the project that the Early Care and Education work group worked on, and then we’ll jump into the presentation. When the pandemic upended our lives in March of 2020, many people began working remotely and child care centers in schools closed to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

As many people did, we saw how challenging close child care centers made day-to-day, so we started asking questions about how child care is affecting the labor market and what unique challenges the sector faces. Centering our research with a lens of racial equity, we looked at how providers face prohibitive cost to their mission of providing high quality child care and also how high cost child care limits accessibility for families, especially with low or moderate incomes. The central part of this project was not only to understand these challenges from a historical perspective, but to hear from parents and providers about how they interact with different barriers to high quality care. With that, let’s jump into the presentation on slide seven. We know that investing in high quality early care and education can achieve high financial return for the public. The programs yielding the largest benefits tend to have a relatively well paid and prepared teachers, low child to teacher ratios, and a research-based curriculum.

High quality program elements often cost more than providers receive through tuition payments or government funding. The quality of child and teacher interactions and their relationships is the most important factor in achieving positive developmental outcomes for children. Supporting these relationships requires attracting and retaining talented teachers, with sufficient wages and benefits, and supporting teacher interactions with children through education and professional development. As you might imagine, retention programs like the one I mentioned aren’t cheap, and teacher wages and benefits already account for 60% of costs. However, those wages are relatively low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medium wage for U.S. child care and preschool teachers in 2020 were $12 and 24 cents, and $15 and 35 cents per hour, respectively. When you look at these wages for Black and Latin workers, they creep even lower. Next slide. Wages vary between provider types. School-based providers can’t pay close to or even over $20 an hour, while teachers at programs that do not receive headstart or public pre-K funding earn a medium wage below $15 an hour.

Higher wages have shown that there’s a reduction in turnover rates. One study based on experimental evidence shows that offering of $1,500 in bonus payments over the course of eight months reduced turnover from 41% to 18% for assistant teachers, and from 20% to 14% among lead teachers. While the bonus payments did significantly reduce turnover rates, the rates still remained high compared to the turnover rate, only 4% among school-based teachers with higher wages. Next slide, please. Thank you. It’s clear that providers face a lot of challenges when they’re trying to provide high quality care, but let’s explore what impacts that has on families. Before a parent can pick a child care provider based on the convenience of location, program type, quality standards, cultural values, or operating hours, the parent must know if the provider’s rates are affordable. Two simple factors constrain the family’s ability to find optimal child care, their income and the prices child care providers charge.

Finding a solution for quality care is much needed in the market because, in most regions, child care is the highest household budget item exceeding even housing costs and college tuition. Among families that pay for care, high income families spend about 6.7% of their income on child care while families with low income spend nearly 40% of theirs. We often hear 7% as a benchmark for affordability for child care expensives, and this measurement might not satisfy how we talk about affordability generally, but I wanted to note that for a married couple with one child, the medium price of child care exceeds this threshold in all states. You can also see here that the age of the child is important when considering cost. For infants, the median price often exceeds 10% and can reach as high as 18%. Next slide.

Prior economic literature suggested challenges with child care affordability can ultimately lead parents who want to work to stay home with their children, work fewer hours, or turn down higher paying roles to avoid benefits cliffs. Child care cost rose 16% from 1990 to 2011. Over the same period, families who continued to pay for care decreased their use by about 23% fewer hours every week. Some families chose to not pay for child care anymore at all. Instead, the mothers left the labor force, which happened more often when the children were under the age of five or the families were earning a low income. In 2021, there were roughly 35 million workers who had at least one child under the age of 14 with no other adult in the household able to care for them during the day. During the pandemic, mothers with children under the age of six made up roughly 10% of the workforce and accounted for nearly 25% of employment loss. Next slide.

Research does suggest that child care assistance programs, including parental leave, part-time work protections, and child care subsidies can boost mothers participation in the labor market. In the United States, the child care and development fund is the largest federal child care subsidy program and provides subsidies so that parents can work or go to school. Families seeking subsidies face obstacles including waiting lists and income eligibility requirements. Those who receive subsidies may experience other challenges such as significant co-payments or low reimbursement rates to providers which can limit their options. States have flexibility to establish eligibility parameters for CCDF. Those are generally reduced coverage by one third compared to federal guidelines.

In fact, in 2018, only one of every six children who are recommended for the program received funding. Additionally, eligibility limits for families can inadvertently hinder economic mobility. For instance, when a family encounters a benefits cliff. Benefits cliff occurs when a modest wage increase puts a family above the income eligibility for a certain benefit. In this case, CCDF. Despite the gain in income, the loss of subsidy results in family being financially worse off. Attempts to address affordability may also interact with other barriers to child care access, which is a perfect moment for me to turn the floor over to my colleague, Sam Evans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Sam Evans

Thank you so much, Katherine. I have the distinct pleasure of highlighting some of the key takeaways from our series from the racial equities, looking at the racial inequities that exist in the ECE system specifically for Black and Hispanic families, as well as highlighting some of the insights shared with us from the parents and providers through our human-centered design focus groups that we held last fall. I’m just going to kind of cover some of the high levels of what was within that report. But if for further interest, if you have further interest about our process or to read the full text, I definitely encourage you to visit the website which was highlighted in the email invitation. If you could go to slide 13, we see that the U.S. Census Bureau current population survey asked those who are not in the labor force but want jobs why they have not looked for more work.

In December 2021, we see that Black and Hispanic and Latina mothers were more likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to experience child care-related job disruptions, leading many to report working less or not working at all. This is significant. As Katherine mentioned earlier, parents, particularly women, can increase their earnings by having access to high quality ECE. This lack of access to high quality can lead parents to make different educational or employment decisions. In our article, we highlighted a survey conducted prior to the pandemic, which showed half of Black mothers and nearly half of Hispanic mothers would actually look for a higher paying job if they had access to more affordable and reliable child care. This was also reflected in comments made during the parent focus groups. If we could, let’s go to the next slide.

When we think about the accessibility of these settings of high quality and the myriad benefits associated with attending such settings, we see that Black and Hispanic children are less likely to be enrolled in high quality settings. Child care, on the supply side, they’re especially low among certain populations, with 57% of Hispanic families, 44% of Black families, and 54% of those living in the lowest income neighborhoods lacking sufficient license or regulated child care providers to even meet the need for the families that are asking for it, where over half of people are living in the US are actually living in child care deserts. This just doesn’t affect just Black or Hispanic families. It does also affect our low income neighborhoods, our segregated neighborhoods, as well as our rural populations as well. Some other factors that impact the accessibility needs of Black and Hispanic families include accessing high quality ECE during non-standard or regular hours.

If you’re thinking about requiring evening or weekend support, and if a family can secure a much coveted ECE slot, so even if they are able to even get a slot or in terms of being able to apply for child care reimbursement or subsidy provided through our government programs, this often requires time, linguistic or literacy support, and extensive paperwork to substantiate the need for care. The sacrifice that Black and Hispanic parents make to attain child care is a complex problem fought with competing challenges. Understanding the conundrum parents and families face and addressing those issues that the ECE workforce and providers are even experiencing when they’re trying to provide more seats, as well as providing the quality with those seats, can really help us to foster more racially equitable ECE. Let’s continue to the next slide, please.

Both parents and providers, they express the high interest and a need for diverse and culturally competent care. This is care that respects the diversity of the population served, and research backs this up. Research also links the benefits of maintaining continuity of culture and linguistic characteristics and experiences between children’s homes as well as their early childhood settings. Moving on to slide 16. As Katherine noted earlier, one of the main ingredients and one of the highest costs is our child care staff. Historically, child care has been largely provided through the unpaid or low wage labor of women, often women of color, and this legacy may play a role and why child care has been and continues to be highly undervalued and underpaid. Wages in the ECE system are some of the lowest, as Katherine alluded to earlier. Additionally, we see that there’s pay disparities that exist as you see there on the slide, particularly for Black providers who are paid on average of 78 cents less per hour than their white peers. Nearly a quarter of Black female child care providers and 15% of Hispanic child care workers were below the poverty line in 2021.

If we’re thinking about our home care providers or those that are unregulated or unlicensed providers, many weren’t able to benefit from some of the supports and resources that came through the COVID 19 pandemic and some of those funding sources. We see that, for instance, many philanthropic or federal or state ECE grants, they required a 501(c)(3) status or licensure, or even just for systematically omitted from some of the key portion of providers offering the in-home care. Unfortunately, even many of these types of ECE settings are closing and providing fewer options for care. Without external intervention and support, these difficulties can become more entrenched over time. Continue here to the last slide. Understandably, we know that child care program is a complex decision for families and a challenge for providers, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic. But as many of us, we come to understand the child care system as a whole and not just a set of individual choices.

We’re able to really understand the robust evidence highlighting how child care and education is really an essential piece of America’s economic puzzle. By centering parent and provider voices and experiences and meeting them where they are, we can see this as one of the true avenues to being able to help to remove barriers and address the racial inequities in the ECE system. During our focus groups, we heard that providers, they want to be more involved in the policy discussion and considerations. Also, when we’re understanding tools such as the quality rating and improvement systems and other nationally accreditation systems that are put in place that to really help to empower and inform parents on quality, we first must understand and consider the economic trade offs that parents are facing as their first concern as their family’s economic security needs. Considering racial equity and the ways in which Black and Hispanic children, and parents, and ECE educators and providers are often navigating these current systems of support is definitely a first step in effectively scaling ECE.

As we transition to our panel discussion, I hope you can take these takeaways with you as we explore through this conversation and dig deeper into some of these key issues. At this time, I’m going to ask the panelists to come on screen. As they are unmuting themselves and coming on screen, I do want to encourage you, the audience, to being able to ask questions for the panelists into the chat box. Hello. With that, we’re going to go ahead and transition to our first speaker, Marika Hamilton, that currently works with the Lincoln Public School in Massachusetts and served also as one of our focus group facilitators last fall. Welcome, Marika.

Marika Hamilton

Welcome. Thank you.

Sam Evans

Yeah. Well, if you could just please introduce yourself and also give your perspective as a parent that was moderating our parent focus groups. Any insights that you can share from what you heard from that focus group discussion?

Marika Hamilton

Sure. Thank you so much, Sam. As mentioned, my name is Marika Hamilton, and it is a pleasure to be amongst this awesome panel of women in this month, which is March Women’s History Month. Whoo whoo. I use she/her pronouns. While I’m here to serve in my most important role as a parent and a mom of my three heartbeats, Sage, Sydney, and Shim, I am also a school administrator, which was mentioned, for the Lincoln School District. Lastly, once I have time to introduce myself, I also like to acknowledge the indigenous land that I am on, or in this case that I’m Zooming in from. I am currently on unseated territory of the Pawtucket in the Massachusetts tribes, and I acknowledge them as the past, present, and future caretakers of this land.

Now that we have that out of the way for me to dig in as a facilitator for the parent focus group, some of the key themes that I felt continue to rise to the surface like driftwood, if you will, were cost and affordability of child care, which I know all too well having three children, that I’ve had to navigate the systems in multiple ways from nannies to child care centers, to having them at school with me because it was more cost effective, to religious-affiliated centers. The other was access and location, whether that being needing to ensure that their home and work were in close proximity to their child care so that there wasn’t so much travel, whether they were on public transportation or if they were by car. If you still have to travel 45 minutes and you’re in traffic to be able to get to a facility because it’s not in close proximity to your home, that time that it’s taking away, and you might be eating breakfast in the car and trying to multitask in so many different ways, can be a burden on families.

The other was just the actual location of the facility. Meaning the type of neighborhood that the facility is located in and making sure that there is that comfort level that if you’re traveling through and you are on public transportation, and you’re coming at 6:00, and it is like daylight saving time in the fall, and it’s getting darker out that you’re feeling comfortable when you’re in those neighborhoods. I’d say last, but certainly not the least because it’s equally important, was strong culturally relevant curriculum. There was this need for parents in wanting to ensure that their children saw themselves in the curriculum.

What I refer to that is something called experiencing mirrors, so that they see themselves reflected and parents felt like that was important, that the children saw themselves in their identity and how they reflected not just in the lesson plans, but also in the staff, in the books, in the pictures, and the activities that they’ve had in the classroom. I know particularly in some cases, the only times that I saw in some of the suburb facilities there being any multiculturalism brought into the space was through WIC posters that were on the wall. There was this dire need for parents to say, “I want this incorporated into the classroom.”

Sam Evans

Yeah. Well that’s great, Marika, and provides a really great segue too to our next for up speaker, Dianne Haulcy. Dianne, who’s also had the opportunity to moderate the focus group discussions with early care and education on the provider side. Dianne, welcome. As Marika kind of explained on the parents side, and especially on talking all around the curriculum and cultural competency around parents, if you could share a little bit about your work or what providers shared and some key themes that you took away from what you heard.

Dianne Haulcy

Absolutely. Thank you, Sam. Good afternoon everyone. I’m so honored to be here to talk with you about what I heard from the providers. Again, my name is Dianne Haulcy. I’m the senior vice president of family engagement at Think Small. We are a nonprofit in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I had a great time with these providers. We talked a lot about a lot of different things, but there’s a few things that really came through. One of them is, I want to mention, is that through the pandemic, providers are exhausted. I like to say, if you know an early childhood provider right now, whether that be at your child’s center or program or just someone in your community, please give them a thank you because they have been holding it down these past couple of years and are really true heroes during this pandemic.

They’re tired, they’re exhausted. In fact, one of the comments I remember is one provider, a center-based provider, actually had a breakout of COVID and had to shut down for a couple of weeks. She said, “I was secretly happy because my staff got to rest,” and because they were short staffed and working really hard and that allowed her staff to rest. They have been struggling, but what also came through is their passion that they did not… They wanted to keep this high quality care going for their families, for their children, because they saw and recognize how essential it was for all the children that were coming into their care. I will say that they also felt like the supports that they get, many of them got some support, some financial support during the pandemic, and it was helpful, but all of them were very concerned about when that support ends, or did end, and what happens then, what happens with the cliff.

I will finalize by, yes, following up on the comments from Marika, the providers, all of them, many of them echoed those comments about culturally responsive care. They said it is essential for the children in their programs to have the kind of curriculum where the children can see themselves reflected. They also talked, however, about how challenging it can be to actually find that kind of curriculum, and that many times, they find themselves having to adjust or add to the curriculums that they do have to make it culturally responsive and culturally competent. But they saw that as an essential part of child development is making sure that every child’s culture and race was represented in the curriculum that they have.

Sam Evans

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Dianne, for sharing. Next, we’re going to skip over to Suzie. Suzie, as an employer, you bring a different perspective to this conversation. Will you please briefly explain the business services your company offers and why you were interested in creating a benefit of onsite child care for your employees?

Suzie Lalich

Sure. Thank you, Sam. I’m Suzie Lalich,. I’m the senior director of employee success for a privately held company that’s headquartered out in Livingston, Montana. We roughly have top line revenues around 42 million last year. Our business services are comprised of eCommerce printing and marketing solutions for customers all across the country, as well as several years ago, we started to develop software solutions that really bring together the digital and the physical and create the ability for our customers to trigger send based off of artificial intelligence. We’ve moved a lot into more of the software as a service space.

But several years ago, before I was employed here at PFL, my former manager, Marne Reed, was expecting her first child, and she lived about 30 miles away in a bigger city called Bozeman, Montana. You may have heard of it. The thought of leaving her child in Bozeman to commute over to our facility in Livingston was frightening for her. She started to talk to some of the other employees and families at PFL and realized that there was a common theme that a lot of our employees were looking to start families or had families, and they were really struggling to find high quality, affordable child care that they felt comfortable leaving their children with. They put a proposal together and went to our then CEO who had no problem approving the onsite child care center. That was about 18 years ago. It first started in a house about three blocks away from our original location.

In 2006, when we were able to build a new large facility, we incorporated it into becoming an onsite location. It’s a subsidized program. PFL does pay a portion of the cost, but we’ve, over the years, tried to keep it affordable for all employees. We have employees that are in kind of various income brackets, from six figures to child care providers who make, in our facility, on average, $17 an hour, which is still very difficult to consider paying child care services on that type of a wage. The program is still running. We currently have about 19 participants in the program and we’re licensed for up to 30, and we’re anticipating in the next year that we will be back at full capacity.

Sam Evans

Great. Thank you so much, Suzie, and I really look forward to unpacking more of the discussion you provided as we’ll more likely have follow up questions. Last, we’ll have Yvette Sanchez Fuentes. Yvette, you have had a chance to hear from a former early care and education provider, a parent with young children, and an employer that offers onsite child care in a small city. From a broader systems and policy perspective, how do the comments that you heard today inform discussions of big picture topics in early care and education?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes

Yeah. Thanks, Sam. Good afternoon everyone. [Spanish 00:31:36]. Thanks so much for the opportunity today to be on this panel, ditto Marika’s comments, with all these amazing women. It’s really awesome. I’m currently serve as the vice president for national policy at Start Early, which is a nonprofit organization that focuses on policy and services to states and communities. This is a really interesting conversation. What I want to share is that part of what’s missing here, primarily throughout COVID, we saw a lot of money come into the system. We saw all of this money coming to states, and then consequently, hopefully, down to providers and particularly to family child care providers and those individual women who are just trying to run their own little small businesses. But what we also saw was that the government decided to do a lot of programs, give out a lot of grants in order to help communities reinvest or to build up their economic development.

I want to go in a really sort of different place here and just make this case that child care and early care and education is connected to the economic development and prosperity of local communities no matter at what level it is. But what we’re missing is that length or that intentional connection between those programs and early care and education. I’ll give you one quick example about this. I read a blog today that was put out by the policy equity group. At the U.S. Department of Commerce, they’re running these regional competitions that they’re calling Build Back Better. It’s basically to give money, millions of dollars, to economic development organizations in local communities and counties and states. There are about 60 finalists now. Of those 60 finalists, only eight mentioned child care as part of their plan towards revitalizing their communities, even though the application specifically calls out how child care fits in.

I want to link this back to something that Sam and Katherine started with around race and equity. I think what we need to see and we need to think about is who are the people sitting at those tables in those organizations making those decisions about linking it to child care in order to support our women, our families of color, our Black and Brown kiddos, our indigenous families? It all sort of comes together. I think, as a community, we’re starting to see that there’s this broader availability of funds, but how do we now make those links and how do we start to either educate and inform, but also hold accountable the people who are sitting at those tables making those decisions? I think there’s a lot going on, but one of the things that we’re missing is the link between child care and early care and education, and these broader programs that can help both reinvest in child care but also help communities reinvest in themselves.

There’s also programs right at the small business administration that coming out of the state of Delaware and coming out of California, it’s really hard for small providers or small businesses to access those funds because there’s this disconnect between agencies like the Department of Labor at states and the agencies that run early childhood programs. How do we start to make those linkages so that we’re getting more money into the system and we’re primarily supporting higher wages, so then we can actually do all of the things that families and providers are telling us that we need to do? We already know what we need to do. Now we need to figure out how to pay for it, but we need to figure out how to prioritize early care and education in the scope of all of this other funding.

Sam Evans

Yeah. Well, that’s great, Yvette, and I think you make a really great valid point of thinking about who’s at the table. I’m sure that’s been even more impacted due to COVID-19, as well as the rise into consciousness about racial justice and racial reckoning. Dianne, I know that you said that you’re from the Twin Cities, so how’s this really had an impact on your community? Are there providers in your area?

Dianne Haulcy

Yes. I want to just really second what Yvette said. There is no way that we can really build back our communities after this pandemic without solid child care, without really investing in the system. I will say Minnesota, I feel, is feeling a little bit better than other states because our governor did actually ensure that we had some investments from the beginning, monthly payments were going out to providers to help them. That is the kind of thing that we need ongoing to make sure that that providers have some stability. One thing to mention is, even before the pandemic, child care is not really a good business model. The way the tools that we have to build child care was not a good business model before the pandemic. We have providers, educators that are very low paid, yet and still, you heard from the reports how incredibly it is expensive it is for families to pay for child care and very little subsidies to help with that.

There were already a lot of advocacy going on before the pandemic of getting those wages up so that we can really stabilize the field. Now, since the pandemic, there’s an incredible shortage of providers and teachers that actually are staying in the classroom for various reasons. What we are hearing in Minnesota is that some providers are having to close rooms and not serve as many children. They’re losing slots because they cannot maintain the workforce that they had before the pandemic, and that’s a huge issue right now.

Sam Evans

Yeah. Well, Suzie, if you could speak to that as someone or an employer that has onsite child care, how has COVID 19 kind of played into that? Dianne kind of spoke from her perspective in what’s happening in Minnesota. What can you tell us that’s happening in your community, especially from one that’s service is a small city?

Suzie Lalich

Yeah, one thing in particular that’s impacted our program was we do have the ability for a lot of our employees to work from home. It wasn’t an option necessarily that many of them had prior to the pandemic. When a lot of people did the massive exodus, they took their kids out of the program with them, and some of them have not returned. They’re figuring out ways to care for their children on their own or through their own communities in their neighborhoods. That has had an impact on the numbers in our program, truthfully, because it does cost them money. They have found ways to provide care for their kids that’s possibly more affordable to them. But one concern we have is will that quality education and those developmental opportunities exist for those kids that they would’ve gotten had they been in a licensed facility such as ours?

That’s one trend we’re seeing. I don’t know if that’s something other areas are. Our governor as well here in Montana has put a huge emphasis on child care programs and really the rehabilitation of making sure that providers are being paid equitably, and really trying to ensure that there’s sustainability for the programs that currently exist so that more don’t end up going out of business, and then they’ve put some funds and appropriated funds to allow more people to start and initiate their own programs with some quality components being considered as well.

Sam Evans

Okay. Yeah, thanks for that. I do want to remind the audience, please, please do submit your questions into the chat box for our panelists. We’re going to move to Q&A in just a few moments, but I do want to circle back around here to Marika. We’ve experienced a pandemic within a pandemic. We hear that on the supply side of child care, it was low during that time. It’s picking back up, of course. What can you share with us and what insights from what you’re seeing in your community that you could share?

Marika Hamilton

Thanks, Sam. I would say agree. I agree with everything that has already been shared and I was doing a major head nod when Yvette was speaking and Dianne, as they talk about what the experience has done and as far as the inequities that COVID has further just shined the spotlight on that already existed. I feel like as it relates to my community, I’ve seen families suffer because the breadwinner fell ill in many cases where they were unprepared for it. I know one of my bus drivers here, he died from COVID and he left a wife and three small children, and she was unable to afford child care and have the means to pay for the child care that they had and to be able to sustain it at that time. I’d say, from on my own behalf, early on in the pandemic, my husband was laid off because of COVID, and because it took so long for test results to come back and he was in the union, that it left us in a predicament of not knowing if what funds were going to be able to come in.

The kids ended up home and I still had to work, and I was pregnant, and I had a COVID baby. Not that my baby had COVID, but I had a baby during the time of COVID. That was a whole other story in what I experienced as a woman of color, having a Black son during that time, and even how I was treated during that time, there were some scary times. But we’ve also mentioned that aside from the health crisis, that we have to remember that there was this dual pandemic and this racial reckoning that was occurring within our country, and that there was an uptick in centers that were focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then some that weren’t. When Mr. George Floyd was murdered, there were some facilities that, in my neighborhood, didn’t pay any acknowledgement to it. I remember writing to some of them at that time saying, “Is anything going to be sent out?

Are you going to acknowledge this?” Because my kids were in that child care facility at the time and I remember them saying, “Oh, we are not going to be sending anything out. Typically, our children are not thinking and seeing these type of things in that way,” along the lines of being colorblind. My response to that was that my dollars would be going to a center that did see my children, because that is something that is vitally important and critical as we talked about having the cultural competency please. I feel like the other shift that I saw and that impacted my family as a whole were the hours of operation changed for facilities because they couldn’t cross mingle or co-mingle children coming in for extended early care. If you had children that needed to get dropped off at 6:00 AM before a center actually opened for their 7:00 AM timeframe, they had to stagger their time.

If you’re in construction or if you work these type of hours that just they’re not standard hours from 9:00 to 5:00, that could have a major impact on your family and trying to navigate how are you going to get someone to care for your children so that you can still go into work. I had to go through care.com. My sister was with me interviewing nannies to try to get, and that’s not cheap, you all. It can be $20 an hour to try to get someone in just for an hour. Through that process, my six-month old fell out of a high chair and had his head on the floor. There are so many shifts and changes that had to be made during that time and trusting complete strangers in many cases during this time because you just had to keep pivoting and moving.

My 19-month old now, I’ve had to put him into child care and I don’t even know… In some cases, you don’t even get to know what it looks like inside. You don’t get to check cleanliness, you don’t get to check quality, you don’t get to check and see if they have any of the cultural competence. You just have to… Now, which is traumatic in many cases for maybe the child, and we say children are resilient, but even for a parent when you just have to drop at the door and then just entrust that they’re in a safe space. When I have had a child that was injured in a child care facility before and sustained a hole in her head and had two layers of stitches and a concussion, that is very traumatic to have to do as a parent. That is just a little bit and a lot of what I’ve experienced as a parent on that end during this time.

Sam Evans

Well, I so appreciate you for sharing your personal experiences, Marika, and I think that it’s something that definitely can be added into this conversation around policy and actually see where the gaps are. Definitely want to bring this conversation back to you, Yvette. How do we be able to bring those voices? I mean, you already kind of talked about thinking about who’s at the table, but how do we figure this out and what are priorities that your organization is prioritizing during this time?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes

Yeah. Thank you, Marika, so much for sharing that. I think it’s really important for us to be honest and transparent about how the last two years have been. I think we often just hear kind of the anecdotal stories that are real, but you hear them three, four people removed. Thank you for sharing that. I think at Start Early, and I would say just across the country with national and state organizations in general, everybody’s talking about making sure that we center the voice of families and providers. But the question really is how do you do that and how do you turn your intent into action? I know, for me at Start Early, one of the questions that we’re asking ourselves is as we’re thinking about the types of policies that we want to influence, how comfortable are we going to be with making sure that we are co-creating, co-constructing, co-authoring, co-publishing and sharing distributed leadership around what it is that we’re going to push and influence?

I think states and localities, we don’t want to get stuck in doing the same thing because there’s an opportunity here. You might as well shake it up a little bit and try to do a policy agenda, research agenda in a different way that actually… I love what Marika said, I think, like you said, experiencing mirrors that actually mirrors what families and providers are telling you you should do. I think, for us, it’s really like how do we actually put our intentions into action? The other point I just want to make is that child care is still a private sector industry. I think that that’s part of what’s making all of this so hard. Often we compare it to K12, but remember K12 is a public sector industry.

For those of you who have kids in the public school system, you never ask yourself how much is going to my kids’ education? Because you’re going to drop your kid off every day and somebody’s going to be there. But in child care, it’s all private sector. The importance of trying for people like me at the national level to make the connections between all of these different departments and all of these different funding streams is really critical. I think the more people we can bring into the space of not just saying, “Child care is important,” but really take your intentions and put them into action.

Sam Evans

Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for that, Yvette. Before we cut to the Q&A questions, and coming in with Matuschka leading in, are there any final thoughts that the panelists like to share before we cut to the Q&A?

Dianne Haulcy

Sam, I’d like to follow up on a comment that Marika made about the dual pandemics that we are facing right now and I think from the child care perspective as well. When George Floyd was murdered in South Minneapolis, in our city, our Twin Cities pretty much basically erupted overnight. This was not only traumatic for our communities, but incredibly traumatic for our child care programs. I do want to say that, yes, young children were watching all of that. They saw all of that. Even if you tried not to have your child see a video on their phone or on TV, they are still hearing it. They’re hearing it from their… Because everybody was talking about it, so they’re hearing it from their older siblings, they’re hearing it from their parents and the community. Everyone was affected by that. I think that there was also a desire to do that, but what we also saw was that nobody knew what that was.

There was a credible amount of confusion, especially the days after. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic as well. It was very traumatic for young children. I think that child care programs, some of them, tried to figure out how to respond to that and do order. But there were, like Marika said, there were plenty of programs that decided that that was not their responsibility or they simply just didn’t know what to do so they froze and did nothing. I just wanted to make that comment that our children are now in the position where they have gone through this very traumatic experience as a community. Now, I do believe that it is our responsibility in the early childhood sector to respond to that, to figure out how we can help to do healing around that.

Sam Evans

Well, thank you so much, Dianne. I’m sure we’ll probably have some questions from our audience that mirrors or can add to that conversation to help unpack that. Matuschka, if you could just go ahead. Do we have any questions from the audience?

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

We do. Like you’ve been saying, Sam, we welcome questions. Just a reminder on how to do that, submit them using the Ask a Question button on the bottom left hand of your screen, or you can also email us at communitiesstls.frb.org. I do want to open this up to everyone, all of the panelists. Some of the questions might be directed, but we would love to hear from all of you for sure. The first question we have is… Let’s see. Do you have any suggestions for conversations with legislators who say, “We don’t have the luxury to focus on quality right now and just need to focus on access to early childhood care and education”? Happy to start with anyone. Any thoughts on that?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes

I’m happy to kick it off. That’s a really interesting question. I was just with providers this morning. One provider said something that really stayed with me. She said, “We can do all of these things,” because the thing that child care providers do, they actually build rockets out of cardboard boxes. If they can do that, then we can prioritize and simultaneously create the systems that we want. It’s just a matter of our elected leaders, our leaders in general, making those decisions to say, “Yes, we’re going to use funds, or we’re going to be creative about funding, or we’re going to find other resources to both prioritize stabilizing the field while, at the same time, thinking about how you’re going to increase wages, how you’re going to increase quality, and how you’re going to link to all of these other funding and programs that are happening in other parts of government and public sector.”

Dianne Haulcy

Yeah. I want to just follow up with that. I couldn’t agree more with Yvette. All I’ll say is nobody ever talks about should we just have access to K to 12 or should it be quality? I mean, I don’t think that there has to be an either or in that discussion, but for some reason when it comes to child care, people want to make it either/or. It doesn’t sound like rocket science. Yes, it should be high quality. Yeah, it shouldn’t be a either/or.

Marika Hamilton

I agree. If I can just add in, I find that the either/or thinking is dominant culture type of thinking, and we have to move away from that. We have to really think about what Yvette said about coming together and partnering in the work. It’s not just building it, and then they’ll come because you know that they need it and because they need to go to work, but it’s really looking and seeing who is at the table and taking an equity pause. Pause and ask yourself those questions. They need a series of questions to say, “Who is here and who isn’t here?” is the biggest question. Who are we not representing? Who is the marginalized group that continues to be that marginalized group that has to continue to take a backseat and that does not have that access to that quality care?

We know that that has been system long. We could talk about how many years that has been in the work from redlining into where are you just forced into certain areas. But until that entire system is dismantled, we’re going to continue putting a bandaid fix, but we definitely, I agree with Yvette, have to make sure that we have the right individuals at the table and they have to ask the right questions.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Our next question, what are some of the most effective policy solutions that you all are looking at to address the broken business model of child care, and what are the funding streams to support these solutions? I thought, Dianne, maybe as a provider, we could start with you on this question.

Dianne Haulcy

Well, I think that’s an excellent question. I was thinking about in Minnesota, our governor just put together a budget that had everything in it to deal with this system of child care. There were things in there that had… There was money for increased reimbursements for the child care assistance program. There was increased dollars for early learning scholarships for people. There’s also money for the providers’ sector so you’re able to give scholarships to people to go back to school to increase their education. I mean, that’s the kind of things that we need. We need support. The kinds of support we need are at the dollar amount that we need government to step in. We need that kind of money to really, subsidize this field.

Like Yvette was saying before, child care is not a public sector right now. Paying for it lands on the backs of families like all of our families here. The amounts of dollars that we are paying go way above how much people can really afford. Being able to subsidize the field to make it affordable and also providing those subsidies so providers can continue with their professional development, wage subsidies, all of that. All of that are good policies for really helping the field.

Suzie Lalich

Really quick. I think engaging more of the private sector like my organization, we have spots that are not being utilized right now, and so I’m paying staff that isn’t at their full capacity. I know that there’s other organizations in Bozeman that they open up their seats to other companies and they do kind of co-oping. That’s been a really great way to just increase the availability. I know not all companies have resources to be able to do that, but incentivizing through tax credits and those sorts of policies is certainly one thing that has helped keep our program running.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Suzie, I’m going to pick off of what you were saying and look at this next question here, but I didn’t think we would have time, but I just think it speaks to maybe a little bit follow up on what you’re saying. Are there opportunities for philanthropy to become more involved in child care issues? Are there examples of private foundations engaged in these issues?

Suzie Lalich

There are. We have two organizations in the state of Montana, the Arthur Blank Foundation and the Washington Foundation. They are heavily involved in working within the sector to solve these problems. They’re there with not only dollars, but they’re hiring people who go out into communities and do research and are really looking to move the needle on this. I haven’t stayed as involved recently, but I know there are a lot of those philanthropic efforts that are driving things forward.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

All right. I’m going to close with one last question as we come to the top of the hour here. We’ve heard about the challenges for families and providers throughout the pandemic. Have there been any positive changes or opportunities due to learnings from COVID? Any thoughts from anyone on that?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes

Yeah. I mean, I can start with that. I mean one specifically, I don’t know how much folks know, but in Washington, DC, recently, in their budget increase wages to child care workers. That’s really big because that is all public sector money. They are definitely both stabilizing and raising wages. The other piece I would just also mention is, and this is I think it was pre pandemic, but in Oregon, Multnomah County, they also… Voters there approved a personal tax income increase in order to pay for high quality universal pre-K, which includes higher wages to staff. I think one of the things that’s really important, building on from what Dianne said about the governor, it’s important for states and localities to start where they’re at. But I think also to think about what are those federal resources that can help to subsidize and close any gaps that exist?

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you, Yvette. Anyone else?

Marika Hamilton

I think from a parent perspective, I can share that… Also as a administrator here in Lincoln, that one thing that I’ve seen us invest more money and time into is professional development, which prior to the pandemic, when I would ask questions as a parent at other facilities, I would get the, “We just don’t have enough money and the budget to be able to cater towards that. It’s coming out of my own pocket.” Here, I’ve seen us have equity stances and statements, and now there’s strategic priority maps and they’re making sure that teachers are trained to really focus on anti-racism, inclusion, diversity, and equity. I think that is helping with the mirrors and children being able to see themselves reflected in the classroom, and the lessons, and the books, and bringing the families in. We’ve had to figure out a way to incorporate families in, in a deeper way, since they can’t actually physically come into the buildings. Now we have mystery readers virtually and there’s other ways that we’re inviting them into the classroom which I think has been a positive.

Matuschka Lindo Briggs

Thank you, Marika. I think we’re going to have to call it there. I’d like to thank all of our speakers today for sharing time with us, as well as all the participants that joined today. We had great questions and great conversation. Thank you for joining us in our discussion on High-Quality Early Care and Education: Cost, Affordability & Racial Equity. A few reminders, we will have a video recording available of today’s session on the Connecting Communities website, and you can find a variety of additional resources available on the Fed Communities website. We also welcome ideas for future recordings. We just shared a survey link if you joined us in the webinar, and the same link will be distributed via email in a few minutes. We appreciate your feedback about today’s session. I also want to share that we do have an opening for our April Connecting Communities that just came up for April 14th. Please reach out to us if you would like to host an event coming up. Well, thank you for joining us. This concludes today’s Connecting Communities webinar. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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