While August marks a time for cookouts and summer vacations, for more and more working families, August is the month where the challenges of finding good child care are magnified from coast to coast. It is in August when many camps close, when early childhood programs often take a well-deserved pause, and where the lack of adequate workplace policies--from limited leave days to lack of flexibility--make the balancing of work and family harder than ever. With the election ahead, policies facing working families should be front and center.
Recently, child care has been in the news. Despite the fact that our child care crisis impacts millions, and that almost every working family with children in America grapples with trying to find and afford quality child care, rarely does this issue rise to the top of the domestic agenda. Finally, 2016 has changed this. But now more than ever, we have to distinguish between child care proposals that are serious and those that are not.
We need a plan that will actually meet the needs and address the realities of today's working families:
• Just like higher education, early education should be affordable to all families.
• Child care jobs should be good paying jobs so they attract and retain the best talent the country has to offer our children.
• New child care facilities should be built or renovated, contributing to community and economic development just like improving roads and bridges.
We do not need "fly by" proposals by candidates that do not truly address our child care crisis:
• Not a tax deduction that benefits the wealthy and leaves low and middle income families out in the cold.
• Not a child care proposal that comes due on April 15th, rather than helping parents pay for child care every week, all year long.
• Not shallow proposals that ignore the need to improve child care and expand services.
As a grandmother of a six-year-old, and someone who has spent decades studying and advocating for families with young children in the United States and around the world, I continue to be amazed that America's system of care remains stuck in a time of landlines and black and white TV. Babies are born and parents rarely have options for paid leave, child care takes an increasing bite out of family budgets, quality early childhood and after school programs remain out of reach for those who need them the most, and teachers of young children continue to receive wages that cannot meet the needs of their own families.
We can do so much better than this. Children and families deserve better.
Access to high-quality, affordable child care and other early learning programs are issues that can unite the country. There is momentum as cities, state houses and communities across the country are recognizing that children and families cannot wait. More and more families are facing this challenge as traditional supports, like extended family who may have been able to fill the gaps, are often miles and miles away.
Voters and policy experts alike need to focus on the details of various proposals, to "get under the hood" of these ideas by asking candidates seeking office throughout the country--what will you do to ensure all parents have the support they need during the critical early years of their child's life? How will you ensure that programs for young children are safe and high quality? As you create new jobs, will you work to ensure that families earn adequate wages, have access to improved work-family benefits, and that caring for children becomes one of the best jobs in the country?
If you are a grandparent, share the story of what child care means to your children and grandchildren. If you are a parent, talk about your own journey to secure quality care and how it affects your family budget. If you are a child care teacher, let others know what it means to work with young children and families every day while struggling to support your own family with an inadequate salary.
There is growing recognition from neuroscience to economics that investing in young children is critically important for their health and education, and is also a necessity for families, good for communities, and essential for the country. We have made bipartisan progress over the past decade, and now we have to pick up the pace. We need to make this election a time for real progress for children and families by electing candidates who are going to not just move the ball forward, but sprint toward a major new child care solution for working families.
There is no better time to start the conversation than in August when families need it the most.
Joan Lombardi, Ph.D., an international expert on child and family policy, a mother of two and grandmother of one, has spent more than 40 years working on behalf of young children and families.