“Families are maxed out,” says Myra Jones-Taylor. “Not just children, but their parents and the support networks they rely upon.”
The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel might be coming into view, but Jones-Taylor, ZERO TO THREE’s chief policy officer, maintains that for families living in or near poverty, the crisis is far from over.
In response to the unprecedented pressure on child care today, the #KidsAreEssential project has formed. It’s an impressive beginning as the new public education effort has brought together a broad coalition of over 140 partners who work across issues not necessarily associated with children.
The project couldn’t be more straightforward, or timelier. The pandemic has taught us to appreciate who is “essential” like never before. Just like workers, children are critical to our nation’s future, and we have arrived at a critical juncture for addressing the crises American children and their families face, and for creating infrastructure that supports and uplifts them now and into the future.
“Young children of color have inequitable access to high-quality early learning opportunities, which are important for building a foundation for positive long-term learning and health outcomes,” says Dr. Carrie Gillispie, senior research associate at The Education Trust. “The pandemic, along with the recent national conversation about systemic racism, has simply exposed these inequities. The #KidsAreEssential campaign shows strong bipartisan support among families across the country for policies that will equitably support kids so that they not only get through this pandemic, but thrive throughout their lifetimes.”
Recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 comes as an enormous relief to the sector that cares for and educates young children while their parents are at work. The bill includes $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program and $24 billion for a child care stabilization fund, as well as expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and making it fully refundable.
The Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund, sees the American Rescue Plan as progress to build upon. “Caring for marginalized children is critical to a meaningful recovery from this pandemic,” he says, “and our policies are finally catching up. The inclusion of an expanded child tax credit and funding for child care in the most recent COVID relief bill is an important indicator that our country is finally ready to treat investment in child well-being as essential.”
What #KidsAreEssential Stands For
Ensuring family economic security through affordable access to food, health care, housing and transportation
Centering mental health as a necessary foundation for later success
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director, CEO and co-founder of MomsRising Together and the MomsRising Education Fund, adds, “The pandemic has shined a bright and unforgiving light on how our current system is failing families, compounding harms to families of color and the youngest among us. We have always known #KidsAreEssential, but now there is a growing understanding across party lines that we need to do more for families and kids.”
Jones-Taylor notes that media stories on child care centers and providers have elevated awareness to dimensions of the crisis that predate the pandemic, and she credits the Pritzker Children’s Initiative for encouraging the coalition to design an attention-getting campaign that “cuts through the noise” and ties child care to women’s rights, affordable housing, equitable taxation and other issues.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, says, “We are so proud to join this robust coalition on behalf of our nation’s children, particularly at a time when the chaos of the present threatens the promise of their future. We know the last year has exacerbated many of the risks Black, brown and immigrant mothers face, particularly those raising infants and toddlers under the cloud of so much uncertainty. It is on their behalf that our lawmakers must prioritize expanded access to paid leave, equitable support for caregivers and long-term investments in prenatal and postpartum health. We can start helping our kids recover their future from this crisis by investing in them and their caregivers now.”
For MomsRising’s Finkbeiner, the goal of #KidsAreEssential is “long-term policy solutions to ensure all kids are able to reach their full potential. That means access to affordable, high-quality early care, guaranteed paid sick days, a federal paid family and medical leave program and access to the nutrition kids need for a healthy start. We can’t afford to wait.”
“We’re after more than one-off fixes,” says Jones-Taylor. “This is the time to secure durable policies.”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.