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Ready for the Ideal Child Care System? Let’s Get Clearer About the Basics

WeVision EarlyEd is all about defining the ideal child care system and making the ideal real, but are we ready to lead the change? Families and early childhood professionals, our “proximity experts,” are clear about what they want in their ideal child care system–one that is child-centered and quality-centered. They want government policies and public funding that makes sense so that young children, and the adults who care for them, have the resources needed to grow and thrive. The child care math ain’t mathing for them.

This broad definition of the ideal child care system is a strong springboard to help us unite around a shared understanding, but further details are needed. Taxpayers and lawmakers in particular will have some fundamental questions and we owe them clear and coherent responses. How we answer the following questions will help determine what is funded and how.

  1. What do we mean by “child care”? Just what happens in regulated early childhood education programs (in  schools, homes or centers)? Or does child care offered by other trusted caregivers (like parents, families, community members, co-ops, nannies, and au pairs) count, too?
  2. Which families need support for child care? Mainly families meeting low-income thresholds or families who are employed? Is child care support only intervention for families with children experiencing poverty? Or all families?
  3. Which child care options should the government fund? What do these options cost? How are the options similar or different? Should we subsidize child care only for the regulated early childhood education programs (in schools, homes or centers)? Or, can government funding support child care provided by other trusted caregivers? And do the subsidies account for the real cost of quality early childhood education, notably competitive compensation for early childhood education professionals?
  4. Who comprises the “early childhood education profession”? How are they different from family members and other adults who care for young children? If they are not different, why are they needed?
  5. What is “quality” early childhood education? Is there a perfect definition? Who defines it? Do the field and young children really benefit when every jurisdiction and funding stream comes up with its own definition of quality? Or, should we have a consistent baseline set of quality standards upon which early childhood education professionals and families can add supplementary and specialized services?

How we answer these fundamental questions will reveal our mindsets about young children, families, and early childhood professionals. These often invisible mindsets are rooted in our values, lived experiences, biases, and beliefs. Some of these help us move closer to our idealized future, as defined by our proximity experts, whereas others are archaic and keep the current child care system in place. Systems change experts suggest examining our mindsets if we want the type of transformative change needed to make the ideal child care real. The policies, regulations and funding levels we see are all held in place by our mindsets. WeVision EarlyEd boldly names five core mindsets shifts we need to consider. Additional discussion will reveal where we are aligned and where there is divergence.

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Tired of Just Navigating Child Care? Let’s Reimagine It Together

Like many of you, our partners operating early childhood education programs are navigating the many pain points of the child care system. They continue to find innovative ways to balance quality, accessibility, and affordability with limited and inconsistent funding while accepting that “it is what it is” if they want to serve young children and their families. Our advocacy and research partners also do the same. They highlight persistent pain points and squeeze what they can from outdated policies. As a funder, we have also done the same. We have spent the bulk of our funding supporting partners so they can navigate a broken system.

While this level of collective resilience is commendable and can have a positive impact on young children and families, our partners (practitioners and advocates alike) continue to tell us that just navigating is unsustainable. It is harmful to those closest to the child care system, holds the status quo in place, and does not shift or push the system to change. It does not allow young children and families to thrive.

And when our partners speak, we listen and act. This is why we launched WeVision EarlyEd in November 2022.

The WeVision EarlyEd initiative provides the time and space for “proximity experts,” early childhood professionals and families closest to the child care system, to reimagine child care. It challenges outdated mindsets. It moves us from “it is what it is” to “what it should be.” It allows us to imagine the future, and then work together to make the ideal real. In this WeVision EarlyEd space, we are all making a shared commitment to do a bit more reimagining and questioning, even as we continue navigating to survive.

Here are three things we have learned from proximity experts so far:

1. Families and early childhood professionals all have similar journeys, pain points, and aspirations. They want a child care system that is child-centered and quality-centered so young children, and those who care for them, can thrive.

2. In order to fundamentally transform the child care system, 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. We need to shift our mindsets and the way we advocate and talk about child care.

One example of shifting mindsets is how we describe child care options, which can be confusing for both families and early childhood professionals. We use a myriad of labels and it’s not always clear what services are being delivered or what families can expect —  family child care, daycare, home provider, preschool, licensed program, unlicensed program, prekindergarten, child development program, kith and kin, elementary school, friend, family, neighbor care (FFN) —  just to name a few. Some of these settings and labels are wrongly perceived as “better” than others.We created a traveling WeVision EarlyEd conference exhibit to begin to test these shifts and collect data directly from early childhood professionals across the country.

Here is how roughly 700 early childhood professionals attending a national and a local early childhood conference saw themselves in a future with clear and well-funded child care options. 

Note how these options use consistent language to focus less on the building type. Instead, they focus on the scope of services families should expect to receive from practitioners and strengthen the case for equitable funding across options. 

Data from a Local Early Childhood Education Conference in Florida

Data from a National  Early Childhood Education Conference Supporting Family Child Care

3. The ideal child care system, as defined by proximity experts, can be made real, even as we navigate the ongoing pain points.

  • WeVision EarlyEd is beginning to fund and support a cohort of Solutions Lab sites so they can make all components of the ideal child care system real…right now. Here is what this looks like. At a minimum, participating sites must:
    1. Meet the industry-recognized and holistic quality standards for early childhood education programs of their choice as a baseline. 
    2. Document their impact on child growth and learning.
    3. Define an annual cost per child, based on what it really costs to run a quality-centered and child-centered program.
    4. Compensate early childhood educators, using public school wages as a guide, and intentionally support the well-being of early childhood educators.
    5. Support affordability for families who are eligible for publicly subsidized child care as well as those who aren’t. 


So, if you are tired of just navigating child care, please join us as we reimagine child care together. You will have opportunities to add to the conversation, share your expertise, host WeVision EarlyEd workshops in your community, co-fund Solution Lab work, deepen your advocacy, learn alongside others, self-reflect, and more.  

 

We’ll be sharing updates monthly through this blog and on social media. To learn more, visit Get Involved – WeVision EarlyEd. Make sure to sign up for updates that will keep us connected.