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9_Crystal Jones_2 Photo

By Ernesto Saldana

Before COVID-19, opening a childcare center was challenging. The early learning and care system (ELC) system was already under-resourced for providers to navigate. Some providers have expressed that navigating the system can feel punitive and arduous.

Crystal Jones, a Black, single mom from a working-class background, is a second-generation child care provider with 17 years of experience. She brings her culture and experiences into her teaching in a unique way. When asked about how she incorporates culture into her home-based child care setting, with pride and conviction, she names systems-impacted families such as single mom-led homes, children in foster care, and children raised by extended families. 

She experienced multiple setbacks within the first four months of the pandemic. In early 2020, she operated a licensed, family child care home. One of her clients, exposed to COVID, had to close and self-quarantine for the mandatory 14 days. During that time, Crystal helped relocate three essential worker families she served. However, the families did not return. The losses continued to accumulate. In addition to being shut down, she was owed reimbursements from a past administrative miscalculation and was also denied a COVID-19 disaster relief loan.

At a crossroads to re-open her home-based program or use this change to pursue her lifelong dream to open a child care center. She began the application process, navigating the facilities and licensing protocols, and invested over $75,000 into a prospective location. She would have loved the opportunity to find a facilities grant to support her. She has turned to ELC partners in LA county for support, who have been very helpful along the way but have also run into some challenges. For example, as Crystal engaged in what she believed was a walk-through preparation visit with the community care licensing manager, she quickly learned this was the official visit to determine if she would receive her license. The manager pointed out non-compliances in a shaming tone. Crystal retorted to the licensing manager, “It feels like you wish I would just withdraw my application to open the center.” The licensing manager replied, “I wish you would.” Upon reflection, Crystal speaks to her frustration and states, “I feel policed one moment and intentionally ignored the next.”   

Crystal’s experience with these challenges in navigating through the process illustrates the ones many child care providers face. “Make it clear for us. I want to grow. I want to learn. It should not be this difficult for us to open a facility. Don’t lower the bar for me. Respect me. See the dignity of the provider. Let’s be on the same side,” she expressed candidly.

It’s important to note that national research shows early childhood center directors are predominantly white, and only 9 percent are Black and 9 percent are Latinx. [1] Systemic barriers rooted in the early childhood’s unequal beginnings of racial and economic injustice have created challenges for women of color to serve in early childhood leadership roles.

Today, Crystal has been notified that her state licensing process will move forward. She is eagerly awaiting what the final steps entail.

Investments in our ELC system and its workforce are essential to families and the state’s economic recovery.  Providers like Crystal need:    

  • Supportive technical assistance that coaches providers to navigate through program licensing, facility development, and other paperwork related to the process to open ELC programs, as well as applying for COVID-related disaster loans or other financial aid opportunities.
  • Intentional outreach and support for providers of color and family child care home-based programs in high and highest-need communities.
  • Reinvestment in the Early Learning and Care Infrastructure Grant Fund offers resources for ELC providers to open or renovate their program facilities in response to COVID-19 guidelines.
  • Create a streamlined and affordable zoning permit process, also known as a “by right” process, for ELC providers at the county and city levels to support new and existing providers to open or expand their programs.

As our ELC system works to stay afloat through the pandemic, now is the time to ensure we fully support our providers like Crystal. Low-income, women-of-color, who serve as the essential workers to the essential workers are critical to our state’s economy. Let us do what we can to help them thrive.

Advancement Project California launched our early learning and care blog series to show how California has the opportunity to take bold steps to build an early learning and care system that addresses the foundations of systemic racism, racial equity, and economic justice. Read more below, and check back daily through January 29th for new updates.

[1] Casey Boyd-Swan and Chris M. Herbst, “Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the Labor Market for Child Care Teachers,” (IZA Institute of Labor Economics, November 2017), IZA DP No. 11140.