The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the importance of child care, not only for working families but for the whole economy. The workforce cannot fully return to normal work patterns without safe, reliable child care available. States play an important role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis by ensuring access to child care for essential workers, interpreting and issuing guidance for health and safety in early care and education (ECE) programs, and supporting ECE providers by assessing their needs in an ever-changing environment. The ongoing availability of safe and healthy ECE programs is essential for addressing this emergency and will be critical for reopening communities and restarting economic activity.
As part of ensuring a strong ECE system, states must promote racial and ethnic equity for both ECE providers and families of color who face unique risks during the pandemic. A large proportion of the ECE workforce consists of women of color who earn very low wages without benefits (e.g., sick leave, health insurance, vacation),1 leaving them vulnerable to the impacts of the current health crises. Race is also a factor in the labor market forces that determine which families need child care (e.g., families of members of the essential workforce) and when they need it. For example, Black and Hispanic workersi are also less likely to be able to work from home, and are therefore more likely to need child care during the pandemic.2 By prioritizing racial and ethnic equity during recovery, states can ensure that disparities based on race/ethnicity are not exacerbated during this crisis.
This action guide provides state leaders with concrete strategies to survey child care providers throughout the pandemic about their needs and the needs of families and children they serve. The guide provides sample questions and offers equity considerations for state leaders as they develop provider surveys and interpret results that support an equity-focused, data-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession. Surveys of providers are a way to gather important information about what type of care they can provide, for whom, for how long, and under what conditions. Surveys are particularly helpful when administrative data about ECE providers are not available. Because of the changing nature of the pandemic, providers’ circumstances will shift over time. Providers consider many factors when determining whether and how to provide care, including their own health, the financial viability of their businesses, the demand for care from essential workers and other families in their area, the availability of supplies to keep their programs safely operating, and the availability of staff (among others). The sample provider survey questions illustrate how states can uncover challenges facing providers, as well as the potential inequities that face providers of color and providers serving primarily families of color.
This action guide accounts for providers’ shifting needs and circumstances, and is structured around three phases of recovery to ensure that provider surveys produce timely and useful information:
Phase 1 – Stabilize: During this phase, state and community leaders work to meet the immediate needs of families and minimize spread of the virus. For ECE programs and providers, the focus is on providing care for the children of essential workers in a way that protects the health of both children and providers. Leaders must also understand whether ECE programs will struggle to reopen so that they can tailor resources and guidance to the ECE workforce and ensure adequate child care supply to the families that need it.
Phase 2 – Rebuild: During this phase, state and community leaders will refine and develop new policies to address the loss of child care programs by supporting new and returning providers. Child care begins to reopen with new health regulations, and leaders develop new policies and practices to rebuild lost ECE programs by expanding and supporting the ECE workforce and promoting economic stability and employment opportunities for parents.
Phase 3 – Grow and strengthen: During this phase, states shift away from rebuilding in direct response to the pandemic and focus on implementing new policies and practices that strengthen ECE programs, the workforce, and families. During this phase, leaders must continuously assess how well policies and practice are achieving their intended goals.
These phases are intended to provide a structure for state leaders to think about provider needs and circumstances that may change over time. They are quite fluid and may look different in different states, or even in different geographic areas within states. States may also advance to one phase and then need to shift back into an earlier one if there are new outbreaks.
Racial and ethnic equity should consistently be a concern for leaders as they move through the phases. Throughout the action guide, we provide several examples of challenges facing providers and families of color that are exacerbated by the pandemic. We’ve highlighted this information in call-out boxes throughout the action guide. Nearly all of the examples in the action guide reference Black and Hispanic communities, yet we know that Asian and Indigenous communities also face challenges related to COVID-19—namely, discrimination and anti-Asian sentiments associated with the coronavirus, and inequitable access to health care for Indigenous people. As state leaders craft survey questions and interpret findings, we urge them to consider these needs in their own communities and ensure that surveys and resulting actions promote racial and ethnic equity.
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