In summary

Child care providers need the state of California, which is responsible for most of our pay and working conditions, to adapt – just like we have.

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By Charlotte Neal, Special to CalMatters

Charlotte Neal has been a family childcare provider for more than 18 years in Sacramento and is a member of Child Care Providers United, CCPU-UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, charlotteccpu@gmail.com.

COVID-19 squeezes families with parents who can’t work from home. Delivery drivers, retail workers and health care professionals need a safe and nurturing place to send their kids during the workday, or they won’t be able to provide for their families. 

Family childcare providers like me are their solution. But this formula for success may not survive much longer because providers are at a breaking point. 

Nearly 6,000 family childcare providers – mostly Black and Brown women – closed their doors in California this year. Many may never reopen, jeopardizing the availability of affordable childcare for working families.

Some providers closed from fear of exposing themselves, staff, loved ones and families they serve to COVID-19. Others closed from the burden of growing out-of-pocket costs. 

For the last 18 years, I have run a family childcare center out of my home. My first kid gets dropped off at 3 a.m. It’s relentless and rewarding work, complicated by the demands of providing childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I sanitize my home and provide masks as if my house were an operating room. I responded to prolonged school closures by helping school-aged kids continue their education. I hired additional staff, bought more food, upgraded my internet connection and purchased tablets to do it. All of these new costs add up quickly because providers already operate on thin margins. 

But there is no alternative. Is anything more important than helping children get through the stress of living during COVID-19? I don’t think so.

As the pandemic surges and debts pile up around me, I see the writing on the wall. I cannot handle these pressures much longer. Other family childcare providers can’t either. We have been taking on mountains of risk and cannot continue facing these challenges alone. 

We need the state of California, which is responsible for most of our pay and working conditions, to acknowledge this and adapt – just like we have. 

For providers, this is the great irony of 2020. We entered this year on a wave of optimism after winning our union rights. We have a seat at the table to make California’s childcare system work better. Now we need the state to engage before it falls apart. 

It’s been a waiting game. We asked for aid to reopen if we close following a potential COVID exposure and for increased payments to cover the 75% increase in costs we’ve faced as we support kids taking part in distance learning. State leaders informed us, in October, they would reverse an effective pay cut we took to cover fees associated with families keeping their kids at home as a safety precaution, but we’re still losing money every month with no actual relief in sight.

As COVID-19 surges across California, it’s clear the pressures working families and childcare providers face will worsen before they improve. We desperately need a breakthrough. 

California can’t beat back the virus unless essential workers continue working, so the rest of the state can quarantine at home. Essential workers can’t work without childcare. This makes childcare providers essential workers too. 

Working parents plus quality childcare equals success. This formula hasn’t changed under COVID-19, but its implications have taken on new significance. Before the pandemic, I viewed my work in childcare as helping keep families whole. Now I see it and our childcare system as the foundation for California’s recovery. 

With so much at stake, the neglect of childcare providers into a closure crisis must stop. We need action from the state, and we need it now. 

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