What’s one thing everybody is impacted by, whether or not they have kids, and seemingly talking about these days? Child care. The intersection of early care and learning with our economy’s ability to function has penetrated a noisy news cycle…for business, policy makers, employers, higher education, parents, and more.
As North Carolina’s only organization focused on birth to age eight early childhood development, we narrow in on child care as it impacts our children, parents and caregivers, and economic development and the workforce. The most rapid period of development in human life happens from birth to eight. Brain development during that time lays the foundation for everything that comes after.
Child development is a dynamic, interactive process. What many people may not realize is that this is not predetermined. Early experiences are built into children’s bodies—shaping brain architecture and impacting how biological systems develop. Every experience a baby has forms a neural connection in the brain at a rate of more than a million synapses per second in the early years. Not all will last. Connections that get used more strengthen, and those used less fade. Positive early experiences build a strong foundation for learning and future health.
NC Economy and Child Care Linked Report
Recognizing the importance of high quality early learning environments to education and development, we recently released a report about how child care and the NC economy are directly impacted by COVID-19 and linked, for better or worse, for our future success, as a society. Our team convened a three-part panel to discuss how widely it reaches. Subsequently, we had over 200 people express interest in attending to discuss the report. View and download an overview one-pager focused on: (1) the future of NC’s economy, (2) uneven recovery across NC prosperity zones, or (3) barriers to educational attainment & career success.
This report, drawing from the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) October 2020 Parent Survey data and December 2020 report by Dr. Clive R. Belfield, provides insight into experiences of families with young children during the COVID-19 pandemic across eight NC regions, called Prosperity Zones (PZs). We analyzed parent survey data, including a statewide sample of 802 working parents, with children aged birth to 5 years. This report sought to capture the complexity of SES by allowing for multiple qualifications.
Low SES in the survey data is defined as:
- working parents with a high school education level or less,
- met federal poverty guidelines for 2020, or
- utilized public assistance.
Analyses help to pinpoint where and for whom local economic and social supports and resources are needed the most across the state. For those who have not read our report, here are six key messages to note:
- Improving the child care system would make a long-lasting impact on NC’s economic future and stability.
- The lack of affordable child care for low income parents and caregivers contributes to widening income inequality. Changing this could close gender, racial, and other SES gaps.
- NC’s continued economic recovery from COVID-19 will require sustained attention to regional variations in child care availability, access, and utilization, in service, to ensure robust workforce participation and educational attainment, especially among families with low-SES and women.
- When considering economic recovery and the importance of access to child care, particular attention should be given to the Sandhills and Piedmont-Triad PZs, as well as the Northeast and Northwest PZs given their numerous and complex community needs (e.g., economic, housing, transportation), compared to other regions.
- Women with young children, especially those in low SES households, are a large part of the employment system and the lack of available and affordable child care is likely disrupting their education and economic progress.
- Employers have an important role in ensuring families with young children have employer-sponsored benefits, such as flexible working hours, on-site child care, a flexible spending account, or other resources, and encouragement for families to use available benefits.
Webinar Expert Speaker Highlights
You can watch and listen to the discussion, we hosted, on our YouTube channel here. Here are some highlights from each of the speakers, including voices of a lead researcher, single mother, child care provider, economic expert, community college leader, and NC state legislators, from both the House and Senate, representing both Democratic and Republican parties. The first part of the webinar opened with an introduction from NCECF Executive Director Muffy Grant and gave an overview of the report with researcher, Dr. Iheoma Iruka.
Grant: “We know that early care and learning is intersectional to a lot of other issues that are important to us. Things like economic mobility, post-secondary pathways and really recognizing early educators in the workforce as the professionals that are doing such important work in brain development before children even enter the kindergarten classroom.”
Read a 2022 article, which interviewed Grant, for EducationNC, about the issue and report.
Iruka: “Parents of young children are making choices about their life because of child care. For example, women are making decisions about their work about educational attainment so families’ goals and aspirations may be deferred or stalled due to the lack of available and affordable child care.
Child care really impacts the whole entire fabric of North Carolina. For example, we know that as an estimated 610, 000 children under the age of five in North Carolina and about 400,000 working parents in North Carolina. So, we want to keep everybody working and getting higher education attainment than it really matters what we do in terms of the child care. Ensuring the children in the best environment again, the first thousand days are important – the first five years are even more important – so really thinking about how to reinsure quality programs, but also the parents are able to to work, to get an education, and increase education, as they see fit, so really how can we help support parents, who wish to advance their own career and their own education attainment.”
The second part of the panel was moderated by Cory Biggs, Director of Policy and Advocacy at myFutureNC, and featured the voices of Alexandra Porter, a parent giving testimony on importance of obtaining child care for her family; Cassandra Brooks, Owner and Operator of Little Believer’s Academy; Crystal Morphis, Founder and CEO of Creative Economic Development Consulting and Women’s Economic Development Network; and JB Buxton, President of Durham Technical Community College.
Biggs: “I do just want to call out the attainment goal that we have here at myFuture NC and see the state of NC’s educational team achieve a goal of having two million young people with a post-secondary degree or credential by the end of 2030. That work is not possible without a strong early care and education system.”
Link to story about aforementioned attainment goal in recent EducationNC article.
Porter: “Overall, without child care I can’t work. I can’t pay the bills if I can’t work so I have to have child care. Being able to come to work is a blessing and it feels good just knowing that I have somewhere to take my child every day so that I can come into work to make my money to take care of my children.”
Brooks: “We have parents, who call daily, who need child care. We’re unable to provide child care because we are short staffed, like many child care centers, like many industries right now. Child Care is a public good whether people see it or not.”
In 2021, Brooks was interviewed by ABC11 for a news story, ‘She holds up the mantle’: Frontline workers grateful for support of child care providers.
Morphis: “If the child care industry were highly profitable, child care centers would be built everywhere, but the model is really one of more of a public good. Where the private sector can be engaged as partners, they could provide child care subsidies and support for their employees, they can also guarantee slots at centers, they can also be in a public-private partnership with education facilities. There are a couple of community colleges and then those who have child care centers on campus. It’s a learning model and teaching model, but also a partnership with the community so, as we think about partnerships going forward, there’s a role for employers on their own for support, but there’s also a role for them to be strong partners in public-private partnerships, too.”
In August 2022, Morphis released a blog entitled, Why Childcare Should be an Economic Development Priority.
Buxton: “From an employee and student perspective this is one of our most important issues and concerns for so many students or prospective students, who either declined or pressed pause on their higher education ambitions during the pandemic. Coming out of the heights of the pandemic into this endemic situation, the child care challenge has not changed for them and those issues remain front and center when they’re making decisions about what they can afford to do, both in terms of their time budget and in terms of their fiscal budget.”
In 2022, Buxton participated in a panel, hosted by NC Chamber, focused on early education and the workforce. Higher Ed Works asked: “Will the NC Chamber walk the walk?” in their analysis of the convening and EducationNC also explored this in NC Chamber: ‘Better days ahead for our education and workforce system.’
Durham Tech is partnering with Kate’s Korner Education Services to offer free part-time child care and after-school care on Main Campus. “Kate” Kezia Goodwin, owner of Kate’s Korner Educational Services, in Durham, moderated our discussion with legislators Representative Ashton Clemmons (D), NC House District 57, representing Guilford County, and Senator Jim Burgin (R), NC Senate District 12, representing Harnett, Lee, and Sampson counties.
In 2021, NCECF explored What Does Educational Justice Look Like in Early Care and Education? with Goodwin and, in 2022, WRAL noted ‘Child care is a huge barrier’: $167K approved to fund free daycare for children of Durham Tech students.
Clemmons: “We began the Early Childhood bipartisan bicameral caucus. In doing so, we’re trying to create a space in the legislature that advocates for prenatal through eight in the General Assembly and educates our peers on the importance of supporting the Early Child Care system. The co-chairs are spending a lot of time trying to diversify the voices that are singing from the hymn book of the importance of child care, particularly within our business community.
“The workforce issues that we’re having – is very closely tied to an unsustainable funding model – is really asking the workers of the system to subsidize the model by not being able to provide for their own families and choosing to be an early child care worker.”
Burgin: “I’m passionate about education. I think we need to be lifetime learners and I think that starts early. I talk about a lot of things about early childhood. I talk about four threes and the four threes to me – I want to make sure that the first three months of conception go well, I want the first three months of life go well, those first three years and then third grade. We need to make sure that kids get a great start to life; it follows their health a lot.”
Follow along with the work of the caucus on Facebook, NCGA Joint Early Childhood Caucus.
Moving Forward: Recommendations to Explore in Child Care
NC’s continued economic recovery will require:
- sustained attention to regional variations in child care availability and
- access to ensure robust workforce participation and educational attainment.
To reach our state’s 2030 goal of having 2 million North Carolinians with a high quality credential or post secondary degree, adult learners need access to the necessary supports. Affordable child care is a crucial component. We need to ensure a robust child care system that is available, accessible, and high quality to meet diverse family needs, especially for parents of infants and toddlers.
For example, our Family Forward NC is an innovative initiative to improve children’s health and well-being and keep NC’s businesses competitive. It is a business-led change to increase access to research-based, family-friendly practices — big and small — that improve workplace productivity, recruitment and retention; grow a strong economy; and support children’s healthy development. We have case studies showcasing how businesses, counties and other leaders have been innovative with solutions.
Some possibilities to explore:
- Supplemental household assets including other adults and older adolescents, living in the home.
- Existing child care arrangements for children with special needs.
- Flexible child care preferences of those working non-standard shifts or hours.
- Parental need for multi-age child care; care and workplace policies in the first months of life for newborns; and extended, on-site child care to accompany federal and state subsidized preschool programs.
- Fund the Leandro Plan
We look forward to seeing how North Carolina leaders choose to explore the possibilities of meeting the child care needs of so many diverse people by this issue.
The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.