• Tiffany Wallin

In a Child Care Desert, Only the Best Oasis Will Do

Google “Child Care Desert”. Several articles and news clips will pop up on the screen, including a 2019 paper composed for the Office of Early Learning Division called, “Oregon’s Child Care Deserts”. According to the paper, a child care desert is any community where less that a third of the community has access to some form of regulated child care, whether it be a family or a commercial center. The entire state of Oregon is a desert for infants and toddlers, meaning all communities suffer from a critical shortage. Preschool care fares only slightly better depending on availability and funding.

A child care desert is an issue of beggars and choosers. A parent who must return to work becomes a beggar by default. And even if you are lucky enough to choose between two or more facilities, your status as a beggar does not improve by much. Choosing a child care facility is a lot like voting in a general election. The decision often comes down to a candidate that is either underwhelming or down right scary.

I’ve been there. I’ve walked into a commercial center only to find myself shaken by what I’ve seen. I’ve had the compromising conversations with myself where most of the sentences start with, “Well, at least”. “Well, at least the bathrooms were semi-clean.” “Well, at least it’s not swarming with cats.” “Well, at least, they know the smell is mold and plan to do something about it...eventually.”

As a mother in a military family, I’ve watched hardworking members of the military become beggars after a child care center closes down. I’ve seen the hardships stack against officers and enlisted who have to overload their spouses with more than one child or fly in family members from out of state. I’ve talked to parents who have to struggle while their husband or wife in the service is out on extended or sudden deployment. I've read emails from military members searching for someone, anyone to take on the charge of their children. I myself cared for children whose parents had nowhere left to turn. Caring for these children, watching these parents struggle, struck a real chord. And so I decided to make an experiment.

I really wanted to see if I could create a center that a parent would actually choose if not for their lowly status as a beggar. The experiment is to see if parents can walk out of New Bees without their child and actually feel at ease rather than anxious. Not only that but I also want to see if the New Bees experience can make parents brave enough to refuse a facility that is below their expectations and to make settling out of the question.

I want New Bees to create a generation of choosers in my local child care desert. Maria Montessori, Magda Gerber, Emmi Pikler and other pioneers in child development were choosers and they chose to create an optimal oasis within their deserts. Montessori built her Casa Dei Bambini within a run down tenement populated by criminals and dead bodies. Emmi Pikler built the Loczy orphanage among the wreckage of war torn Hungary. Considering what these women accomplished in their circumstances, building New Bees just a few miles from a links golf course and a sprawling seaside town seems slightly less daunting but just as necessary.

An oasis is often seen as a godsend to those who are wandering and thirsty. If the waters are muddy and foul, a decision must be made. Drink and hope for the least painful outcome or keep wandering and hope for something better. There will still be hundreds of wanderers seeking a cat-less, semi-clean oasis for their children in my community after New Bees opens its doors. But there will also be a standard of choice set among parents who enroll their children at New Bees. That standard of choice will extend to their families and friends and peers. Hopefully then, those wanderers who learn about New Bees, about Educaring, about the Montessori Method, will consider the waters of the next oasis with an open spot for their child. Hopefully those wanderers will feel empowered to choose for better and demand an optimal standard of care and education for their children along with a much deserved sense of relief for themselves as parents who chose well.

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