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OPINION: Families Are in Crisis. Business, Government and Philanthropy All Need to Step Up

As anyone knows who reads Early Learning Nation, not to mention any major newspaper or magazine, child care has dangerously deteriorated during the pandemic. Child care workers are “quitting in droves.” Center-based care, family-based care and informal care sites are closing in Michigan, Virginia and across the country. It should come as no surprise that the families hardest hit by the crisis are the ones that can least afford one more setback in this fragile economy.

This is a time when business, government and philanthropy—separately and together—need to do more for the families and children trapped in an unsustainable system.

Business

Businesses are the engine of American innovation. This is a time to be innovative about child care.

Thanks to the efforts of the Council for a Strong America’s ReadyNation, CEOs like me are proactively taking part in solutions to the child care crisis. Well before the pandemic, ReadyNation started highlighting the cause-effect relationship between early education, today’s productivity and tomorrow’s workforce. Building a child-friendly, business-friendly coalition alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conveners smooths the way for systemic change. The payoff for businesses and families will far outweigh the upfront investment necessary.

👉Read more: Business Leaders Supporting Child Care

Last month, ReadyNation published an open letter calling on Congress to increase and sustain public investments in our nation’s child care system. Current and former executives with leadership experience at some of the nation’s largest companies signed on, and so did I. Enlightened, Inc., the software company I co-founded with two college friends, isn’t usually mentioned alongside the likes of Delta Air Lines, RE/MAX, Pizza Hut, Guardian Life and Vanguard (not yet), but it will take all kinds and sizes of business to make family-friendly work policies the norm instead of the exception.

Businesses are the engine of American innovation. This is a time to be innovative about child care.

At Enlightened, we have four moms on our leadership team. When the pandemic initially kept us working from home, it opened my eyes to the talent it takes to keep all those plates spinning without dropping any. My business is adjusting our perspective to the new reality and new priorities. We’re exploring ways to help staff with families to manage all the challenges, but I sometimes have to remind myself that I run a company in order to make a profit. If we don’t make a profit, there is no company to run. Onsite child care is something we’re considering, but this step might be more practical for large businesses.

Government

Federal and state governments can and must do more for families and kids with new and more robust measures. This is the time for the political will to do more—even if it means raising taxes.

Here in Washington, D.C., I see a large equity gap that makes it hard for workers of color to take advantage of economic opportunities. In some ways, things are better than when I was growing up in the Carver Terrace Apartments here. My parents ran an upholstery shop and made a deal with the local Catholic school—bartering upholstery for my education. They taught me not to be defined by the neighborhood I grew up in. This outlook has worked for me, but not everybody growing up in Wards 7 and 8, where the challenges of poverty and violence remain, overcomes the odds.

Although D.C. residents have many structural obstacles to overcome, we have resources here like the Federal City Council (FC2), which has championed affordable child care and other equity measures. The membership of this nonprofit advocacy organization draws from the District’s luminaries in politics, government relations, finance and real estate—which brings me to philanthropy, the third pillar necessary for reinventing the child care landscape.

Philanthropy

Charitable foundations have endowments, many of them in the billions. Wealthy individuals often have donor-advised funds. That money is earmarked for charity, but right now it’s sitting in the account, accruing interest. Whether you support local organizations that provide direct service, advocacy groups fighting for social change or think tanks envisioning new paradigms, I hope you’ll take a look around and come to the same conclusion I have: This is a time to step up philanthropic investments.

Foundations and donors have traditionally supported nonprofits that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I strongly encourage those who control the purse strings of philanthropy to continue investing in children. If possible, more than ever before.

Antwanye Ford is the Vice-Chair of the US Black Chambers, Inc. and Board Chair of the District of Columbia Workforce Investment Council (WIC). Ford is board member and Board Secretary for the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB), a national organization dedicated to the continuous improvement of work in the workforce development industry. Ford was one of the founders of The Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. (“GWBCC”), the leading Voice for Black Business in the Greater Washington Area and a Member of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood.

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