Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director, WECA
Governor Evers just announced significant support to distribute PPE to schools, specifically 2 million masks and 4,200 infrared thermometers. While I fully support ensuring our schools open safely for children, teachers, and staff, I must ask, “What about our state’s child care programs? Where are their masks and thermometers?”
The child care industry in this state plays a dual role in caring for and educating children, while also allowing parents to work and businesses to be productive. While schools across Wisconsin closed this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state, child care programs were urged to stay open and prioritize caring for children of essential workers. The tireless resilience of this long under-resourced field, the majority of whom work for $10/hour and often lack benefits many of us take for granted, meant child care programs rose to this occasion with grace and tenacity…but without needed PPE and cleaning supplies. They figured out how to operate more safely and welcomed new families as they supported Wisconsin’s essential workforce. This has been hard work requiring long hours, nimbleness, and working under the stress of getting sick or passing the virus to the children for whom they care.
Since March, the child care industry has been asking for masks, cleaning supplies they cannot find in stores, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, no-touch thermometers to screen children coming in to their programs, and more. Their needs are great. Toddlers do not social distance; 4-year olds touch everything, including each other. This is exactly what children need for healthy development. We must find a way to support early educators as they provide safe opportunities for this development and safe opportunities for parents to be productive at work, while their children are in care. We are 4 months into COVID-19 with no end in sight. We are 4 months into child care programs closing because they could not secure masks, cleaning supplies, and thermometers. We are 4 months into child care programs calling on the state to support these basic health and safety needs.
We have asked this field for too much for too long without giving them the basic supports needed to do their jobs well. Even at this juncture when working parents will need child care more than ever, we fail to listen to them. The Wisconsin economy will suffer for these missed opportunities as the supply of child care plummets. The First Five Years Fund reports that if we continue to under-resource this field, Wisconsin will lose an estimated 41,357 child care slots; or fully 25% of our regulated capacity. And pre COVID we already lacked adequate capacity to meet working parent’s needs.
Kudos to the Governor’s office in securing critical masks and thermometers for our schools; they will desperately need them. But child care is left feeling demoralized and we cannot afford to lose more capacity. So, remember our child care programs, please!