For me, as for so many parents, recent days have been a constant reminder of the herculean feats Louisiana's child care centers perform daily.
My most recent — and most acute — reminder came last week, when a sudden change in child care plans resulted in two new coworkers — boys under the age of 5 — joining my packed day of virtual meetings.
We muddled through the day, with more screen time and sugar than I’m proud to admit, but essential personnel don’t have that option — they can’t do their work to keep the rest of us alive and going if they have to be home with kids.
For this reason, and now more than ever, we should thank our early educators through our words but, more importantly, through our actions. The Louisiana Department of Education, where I am an assistant superintendent, is doing just that.
First, child care centers shouldn’t have to choose between putting staff and kids at risk by staying open or going bankrupt by shutting down. To do our part, for children who attend through subsidy, we are paying providers based on enrollment, not attendance, to help them make closure decisions based on safety alone.
Second, we are working closely with the Louisiana Office of Public Health to stay on top of rapidly evolving safety guidance for child care centers that remain open. We owe all of them the best, most up-to-date thinking on how to avoid unnecessary risks.
Third, we are connecting child care workers to the important feeding programs run by our school systems to ensure the people who care for our kids don’t have to worry about putting food on the table for their own children and those they educate.
Finally, we have made subsidized care available to essential workers across the state, allowing essential personnel to go to work with confidence their children are in good hands.
This subsidized care also provides child care providers — small businesses operating on razor-thin margins — with funding. A new report from the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children emphasizes if we don’t support through this crisis providers and their staff, who barely make above minimum wage, many will never bounce back.
In normal times, child care providers are a linchpin of our society. High quality early childhood care and education strengthens our workforce and can even lift families out of intergenerational poverty.
In these scary and uncertain times, when nearly 70% of child care sites have closed their doors, the work of those remaining open is a matter of life and death.
This crisis will test us all. To everyone who is trying to juggle life’s daily challenges with the added responsibility of round-the-clock child care: give grace to yourself and others. Take a minute to step back when you need it. Forgive yourself for the days with too much sugar or screen time. Wash your hands; stay home; stay safe; and say an extra “thank you” to our child care professionals.
And to the child care directors and teachers: We see you. We appreciate you. We are here for you, and we aren’t going anywhere.
Jessica Baghian is the assistant state superintendent and chief academic policy officer at the Louisiana Department of Education.