The True Cost of Childcare
Updated: Feb 22, 2020
Ask any mom or dad about their care situation. Within my community, most will answer that they don't have a care situation to begin with. Less than 33% of children under age 5 have access to licensed care in Clatsop County. For the lucky beggars who "have a place", the discussion will revolve around the expense:
"I put my son in So&So Care. It's $620 a month just for after school care".
Discussion of expense is typically followed by a passive critique of some kind:
"The teachers don't tell me anything".
"I have to cross the bridge to get to the place then come back the way I came to go to work".
I've rarely heard a parent discuss their care situation in relation to the program, the philosophy or the rapport with the staff (who don't tell them anything). I can't help but wonder if there's more to that. There has to be a reason why parents deliver only passive complaints, bemoan expense or have, at best, a superficial relationship with the staff at their local care facility. Oh sure, parents never say the care situation isn't worth the money but, we're cool right? Cool enough to be honest? Because if we're being perfectly honest, if parents are complaining or only mentioning the expense, then the quality of care has not lived up to the price that they are paying. Period.
Quality in any care facility falls to the caregivers. And since we're still being cool and perfectly honest with each other, the TRUE cost of childcare is shouldered by caregivers. Period. These are the same people who tend to the developmental needs of your child as well as those of, at most, nine other children. Simultaneously. They also typically live on minimum wage, work for 8+ hours a day, and are slated to care for an age group they'd rather not work with. If you've ever wondered why the cost of infant care broaches $900 a month or more, imagine being the one adult willing to care for four infants at once. That's one adult with four babies, five days a week, fifty weeks per year. That one adult is also very hard to find.
The childcare industry is rife with staffing shortages. A third of the employee base leaves the industry every year. When an employer looks within this shallow pool for resumes, she often hopes to find the two magic acronyms: CBR & CPR.** These alone grant an interview. But what employers really hope & pray to find on resumes are much more magical terms. Terms like bachelors and certificate. These terms come from an even shallower pool mind you. Then there are people like me hoping to find unicorns while crab fishing. These unicorns are Montessori, Reggio and Educarer. These are terms that not only render hope and prayer. They also render begging, bribery and theft.
More often than not, employers see much more mundane words like summer, temporary and babysitting experience. And sometimes those words don't even get paired with the magical acronyms. Employers expect the mundane words, even welcome them. Why should we expect anything else? If we put ourselves in the shoes of a professional caregiver, why would we want to care for numerous, strange children for longer than a single summer? Even if we had qualifications, we would still be slated with pay below a living wage. It would be very rare indeed that an ECE certificate would render a promotion of any kind in the near future. Rarer still would be the likelihood of working at a center willing to fund further professional development, meant to earn us higher wages. To work in childcare is to be underpaid, overqualified and unappreciated. To work in childcare is to give up on opportunities for a fulfilling career in much more lucrative industries. If your caregiver looks slightly dead-eyed when you arrive to pick up your child, it will now be easier to imagine why.
Minimum pay and a shallow employment pool are the reasons why Clatsop County (AND the entire state of Oregon AND most of the country) is a childcare desert. They are also the first falling dominoes in a long line of troubling issues: high drop out rates, low graduation, low math and reading scores, lack of state funding, etc., etc. Google "education" and "Oregon" and all of the former phrases will turn up in most of the search results. As long as there remains a shortage of caregivers, these problems will remain as well. But when all the dominoes fall, the best thing to do next is pick up the first one and reset it firmly on its end.
The first domino to be reset has to be expense. We have to pay and treat people like the qualified professionals that they are. As an educator myself, I know how crucial it is to establish oneself as an individual with specific training and degrees. So I insist that my caregivers at New Bees are trained in basic methods of Educaring (on site!!). That training will continue throughout their career and will allow staff to perform work as consultants, as lecturers, as researchers. New Bees staff can join the RIE institute and elect to become associates within the organization to gain even more earning power. Hopefully, they will use their training to direct and supervise in expanded New Bees care rooms and facilities (no begging, bribery or theft required).
The next domino to reset is relationships with parents. We can replace passive complaints with effusive conversations about Educaring, about spiral curriculum in the Montessori room, about ulnar grasps. The day that every mom and dad can discuss ulnar grasps with me will be the day I deem the world to be saved. That will also be the day when price no longer pits itself against quality within the industry. Parents would then understand the difference between hiring a sitter and attaching their child to a vested professional. They would see the returns on their child's education as tangible just like the state energy credits for a Tesla or the professional camera settings on their iPhone. Since we are still being cool and honest, the third domino will be to equate the value of child care with the value of these items. There is a connection that people make to these items that renders the high cost benign. If a person can love a phone or a car, then a person can love their child's caregiver too. Hopefully even more.
**Central Background Registry and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation