Early care and education is in crisis!
Even prior to Covid, childcare programs were struggling to recruit and retain high-quality staff and parents struggled to afford the cost of care. The pandemic has further exasperated this situation. Faced with rising costs and the challenge of finding and retaining high-quality staff, many programs across the state have closed and others are in danger of closing. Without these programs, parents cannot work. Twenty-six percent of women who became unemployed during the pandemic cited lack of childcare as the reason.
Like healthcare and K-12 public education, early care and education is an essential part of Connecticut’s infrastructure and should be treated as such. Data shows that the United States’ gross domestic product could be 5% higher if women participated in the workforce at the same rate as men. Even before the pandemic, inadequate childcare was costing working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity.
But early care and education is not just a workforce development issue. Birth-to-5 experiences and support are the foundation for everything that follows in the life of a child. By age 3, a child’s brain has reached 80% of its adult size and critical connections have already been formed. Without the experiences and opportunities provided by high-quality early care and education, many children will be left behind. Furthermore, there is no better return on investment than early childhood. According to economists, high-quality early care can yield a $4 to $9 dollar return per $1 invested.
In Norwalk, programs are losing staff to industries that can afford to pay them more. The average annual pay for early childhood staff is about $24,000, the second percentile of all occupations. Yet their work is arguably one of the most important jobs in our communities. We cannot attract people to the profession if we cannot compensate them fairly. Families cannot afford to pay more for childcare, so significantly raising tuition is not a viable option.
In 2022 there was an 11% drop in the number of Norwalk kindergarten students who had a pre-k experience. Research is clear that high-quality preschool programs help close the gap in school and life outcomes between children from low- income families and their wealthier peers.
On March 15th, people across the state will hold #MorningWithoutChildCare events, which will include parents, providers, teachers, workers, and business owners demanding more attention and support of early childhood. We encourage community members to show support by attending one of the planned rallies around the state, or by sending letters to legislators through the Child Care for CT’s Future website: Home | Child Care for CT. Please tell lawmakers that you stand in solidarity with the parents, providers, teachers, workers, and businesses that are struggling because we have a childcare system that does not work for all Connecticut residents.
Our demand is simple.
FIX THIS SYSTEM OR WE WON’T HAVE ONE.
Jennifer D. Barahona, Norwalk ACTS
Cathy DeCesare and Amaris Melendez, Norwalk Early Childhood Council