Nearly four decades ago, when my grandmother opened the early child care center I now run, the demands facing the owner were a lot different.
Today, it is very likely both parents are working, and the need for access to quality child care often begins mere weeks after the infant enters the world. That child care center takes on a whole new level of intimacy and importance to a family.
I get it. When I decided to take over this business, I did it as much as to have a quality center where I could care for my own infants, as to carry on a business which offered quality service that met the best expectations of parents.
Best practices now encompass more than accreditation and licensing standards. They also require surviving an arduous rating program with the Louisiana Department of Education.
My center is a Highly Proficient, Type III center with video-monitored classrooms, a full cafeteria, a summer camp, and developmentally appropriate programs including a Tier 1 Frog Street Press Curriculum for all age groups.
Today’s early child care is not the same as just having a safe place for a mom’s afternoon off. Today’s center is recognized as an important educational experience because infant and early brains are gaining critical developmental experiences before they enter Pre-K.
As we close this year, I am grateful as I participated in exciting work as chair of the Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Advisory Council to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, as an Early Childhood Care and Education Commission member, and as Chair of the Jefferson Chamber Education Committee.
While the unmet need for quality early care is just as great in Louisiana and the public funding is just as inadequate today as it was two years ago, something has changed. With help from organizations like the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, decision-makers are becoming increasingly aware of how important it is to finally help Louisiana’s working parents. Policymakers and legislators are starting to fully understand the link between access to quality care and our children’s educational success, as well as the immediate and long-term economic impact that go along with it.
Ask any working parent in Louisiana with children from newborns to 4-year-olds, and they will tell you how finding quality, affordable child care impacts their ability to work, as well as their child’s development.
Our state has done something incredible: It has documented just how expensive the lack of affordable, quality child care is to parents and to the people who employ them, and it has developed programs that empower parents to find quality centers in their area through a public rating system published by the Department of Education.
Now, our united challenge for 2019 is sustainable state funding. Now, the Early Child Care and Education Commission, convened by the Legislature, is studying how to pilot cost-effective, quality programs. A recent state auditor’s report found that Louisiana's network of existing programs does not meet national child-teacher ratios, and the state network remains woefully underfunded.
I know the need is greater than any current source of funds can address, public or private. Yet, finding funding solutions is worth it.
Yes, we have a lot to do in 2019. The average child care worker is woefully underpaid; evidence-based training is insufficient; parents are sacrificing promotions or missing work to care for their children.
We know how to fix this problem. We just need the will to do it. I’m hopeful that 2019 is our year.
Paula Polito is owner and director of Beary Cherry Tree in Metairie.