In the past, the root of the child care issue was not enough child care spots in communities. We recognized then that child care was an economic driver in communities. We educated community leaders, government leaders and lay people. However, now that that message is finally sounding loud and clear, we are too late.
We did the research. We supported quality care. Our quality rating system pushed out many experienced workers in exchange for less experienced, credentialed workers. It’s a business decision. The average child care worker earns $11.66 per hour. A provider’s quality rating is determined by the number of staff with credentials: a CDA, associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees. How much do you expect to earn after earning a degree?
I support high quality child care and credentialed staff. I have worked to increase compensation to $13 per hour. Prior to the pandemic, and especially now, it has become more difficult to fill open positions. Open spaces for children remain unfilled because there aren’t enough workers to rooms. Employee absences can result in room closures creating child care problems for parents. Further, I’m competing for applicants with fast food establishments — are these the workers we want watching our children? Even if they are, they pay $14-15 in starting wages. Every dime I raise employee compensation directly raises child care fees a dime.
After my licensing inspection, I learned employees cannot take lunch breaks because the “technical assistance” (interpretations of child care regulations) changed to not permit staff to decrease ratios in rooms when the children were “napping or sleeping.” For over 25 years, this was allowed. Now, in addition to lower compensation, child care workers cannot have a break! In order to keep ratios in place and permit employees to have lunch breaks, I will add $450 per week ($23,400 annually) and three part time employees — when I already have open positions and am fighting to pay current teachers appropriately. One cannot regulate good moral character, and that’s what these rules try to do. Bad actors will still be bad actors.
The current proposed child care plan for Michigan focuses on child care expansion. This expansion funding will be consumed by higher fees due to employee compensation costs necessary to retain a workforce. If we don’t increase worker compensation sustainably, we risk losing child care all together. Even the premium pay is less than half of the Direct Care Worker pass through given to other “essential” front-line workers. The former publicized $500 hazard payment for preschool teachers was given only to those teaching in government programs who already make higher wages and were virtual during the beginning of the pandemic.
For years I’ve focused on the accessibility of high-quality child care for all families in the community. I struggled to balance affordability with compensation. I worked to empower the women around me: my employees, single mothers and mothers caught in the cross-fire. My employees live in crisis, and yet, we ask them to educate and care for our youngest children. How am I supposed to break the cycle of poverty, if my only option is to widen the gap? I will no longer continue to be part of the compensation problem just to Band-Aid the accessibility problem.
Children cannot vote, but parents, teachers and community leaders can. Please work together to find an option that makes child care viable in our state. Although my nonprofit center is small, it impacts our community, and I fear it won’t survive for long without help. I’m available to work with anyone interested in developing sustainable options to keep child care viable.
About the author: Karin Cooney is the executive director of Angel Care Preschool and Child Care. She is a child care reform advocate.