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Saving What Is Left of Early Childhood


By Esther Nguyen

On March 19, 2020, California implemented a Stay Home order forcing most non-essential businesses to close. Faced with tremendous uncertainty, additional burdens, and concern over safety, almost one in four licensed child care providers closed. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) estimates more than 2,400 providers are permanently lost. Despite this bleak forecast, early childhood providers continue to prove their role in supporting families is indispensable. They are the essential workers to essential workers. Supporting them through this pandemic is critical to any economic recovery.

Catherine Scott, a Long Beach home-based provider, chose to stay open during the pandemic. This was because unlike most, she was able to maintain her enrollment numbers and keep her two full-time staff members. However, the beginning stages of the shutdown were not met without other challenges for Catherine. At first, she was unable to access her usual staple goods, such as healthy snacks and cleaning supplies, for her program. Shelves were bare and childcare providers were not initially listed as eligible for reserve stockpiles in stores. Before there was any state or local assistance, Catherine and other family child care home (FCCH) providers in her area banded together and created a Facebook group to barter and trade supplies.

Emergency supplies were later made available through CDSS, which were distributed quickly and efficiently largely through the Research and Referral Network (R&R) and local R&R agencies. Various counties, cities, and other agencies that support early learning and care (ELC) programs also developed additional forms of assistance and/or supported with supply distribution. The initiative and collaboration in this effort was truly a bright spot in the COVID-19 rapid response effort. However, in part, due to early childhood not being one centralized system, streamlining information is challenging. Having knowledge of the latest developments and opportunities for support often depends on providers being connected to some sort of early childhood network. Now that some resources are available, Catherine relies on weekly distributions from the Mayor’s Fund for Education — COVID-19 Response, a City of Long Beach program that distributes diapers, masks, sanitizer, educational toys, and more. Catherine says these supports are critical for her, and being part of the Long Beach Child Care Network and Quality Start Los Angeles are key to keeping her aware of updates to safety protocols and regulations, and available resources.

While the leadership of local government agencies and community-based organizations is critical, the compounding effects of decades of scarce funding and an overall disconnected system has left the early childhood field especially vulnerable to the pandemic. Without increased and targeted supports to reach providers in high need communities—particularly family child care homes and family, friends, and neighbors (FFN)—there might not be a coming back from this crisis. It will be critical to explore how we can support these providers to sustain and return. The latest COVID-19 pandemic relief package is set to provide $1 billion in funding to ELC for California, however, that amount falls short of the funding requested in two bills that were passed in the House over the summer. While the country awaits a new president and a promised plan from the Biden administration for a third round of federal relief, California can take important leadership.

Providers like Catherine need:

  1. State and local leaders to build on the past success of quick and efficient distribution of supplies through partnerships between CDSS, the R&R Network, local R&R agencies, and other partners to ensure all ELC providers are reached, particularly in highest need communities.
  2. Ongoing surveying of centers, family child care homes (FCCH), and family friends and neighbors (FFN) to assess their connection to an early childhood network and guide targeted outreach to ensure all providers are engaged, connected, and supported.
  3. Resources dedicated to increasing the capacity of agencies that support ELC providers, particularly those:
  4. in highest need communities;
  5. not connected to an early childhood network or support structure; and
  6. who need support to reopen their programs.

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.