In order to fundamentally change the child care system, we need to shift these mindsets. We need to challenge our assumptions about what child care is, who is served, who pays, how we define quality and how decisions are made.
Here are the five core shifts needed to build a system that works for everyone.
Rethink: When learning begins
The current U.S. public education system is built on the idea that learning begins at kindergarten. The reality is that the first five years of life, and particularly the first three, are a critical stage in human development — laying the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. Well-prepared and supported educators can provide intentional experiences that support children’s learning and development, helping to build the critical cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills that can set them up for a lifetime of success.
Rethink: Who is served
Who needs child care support? The outdated mindset says only some families and under certain limited conditions. The reality is, nearly every family — regardless of income, employment status, race, gender or geographic location — wants support for their young children. That means child care needs to be universally accessible — and not just for 3- and 4-year olds, but for infants and toddlers as well.
Rethink: What it costs and how to pay for it
The outdated mindset views child care as a family’s responsibility. If families can’t afford child care, they shouldn’t have kids. Child care is a public good that benefits all of us — whether or not we have young children — and it’s time we started treating it like that. It should be funded by federal and local governments as a public good, the same way we collectively fund public schools, roads, libraries and parks. Additional government funding will make quality child care options more affordable for families, adequately compensate competent educators, and help administrators start and/or expand their programs.
The current system treats quality early childhood education as a luxury that only some families can afford and only a few programs can provide. But quality should be funded and expected as a norm and be accessible to all families who want it.
Quality should be a floor, not a ceiling.
Rethink: Governance and decision-making
Outdated mindsets hold government agencies and policymakers solely responsible for all decision-making in the child care system. Transformative mindsets want families, educators and administrators at the decision-making tables, too. Policy decisions and regulations should be informed by the expertise of early childhood professionals and families.
Want to learn more about the mindsets that need to change in order to create the ideal early childhood education system?
Download the full report, “Making the Ideal Real: How Child Care Can Work Better for Everyone.”