Background: The period in children’s lives before they enter public education has historically received little public investment in the United States, despite the developmental importance of these early years. During the very period when brain development is most sensitive to environmental influence, the cost of out-of-home care is at its highest, and is largely borne by families without public support. In addition, the quality of the care available during this period is at its lowest, on average, especially for disadvantaged families. As a result, most working parents struggle to find and afford high-quality, nonparental early care and education, particularly for infants and toddlers, for children with special needs, or care during non-traditional hours (e.g., nights, weekends). For many children, the lack of affordable, accessible, and good-quality early care and education represents a lost opportunity to have the enriching early childhood experiences and interactions that can build a solid foundation for school readiness and later success. The problems in accessing affordable, high-quality child care have existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, but the pandemic has highlighted the sector’s vulnerability and its importance to our economy and future workforce, and has exacerbated the inequalities in access.
Cradle to Kindergarten Process and Priorities:
- Calculating “demand” in the current context by using metrics of working parents and eligible families as proxies
- Identifying elements of the current design that are most constraining parents (for example, copays)
- Providing background information on why raising the rates does not always trickle down to provider compensation
- Evaluating and discussing the need for contracted care in the current context
- Detailing how best to stimulate supply in the current context
- Analyzing and outlining how the proposed steps will impact the economy and workforce to have a childcare guarantee