Investing in Care Infrastructure
Research shows that in the first five years of a child’s life, their brain will develop far more connections at a much faster rate than at any other point in their life. This is the most important time in which the foundations for learning, health, and behavior throughout life are laid down.
It is in the first five years that lasting impressions are made … and when we can build strong foundations that will last a lifetime. It is in the first five years we can change communities for the better. This is why I have dedicated my life to the first five years.
Child care, or “daycare” as most call it, has always been looked at as “babysitting.” Making sure a child’s most basic needs are met, and that is part of it, but of course it is more than that.
At accredited centers, it is not babysitting, it is not day care, it is not even child care. It is early childhood education. Teachers can be found planning and implementing intentional developmentally appropriate learning experiences that promote social and emotional development, physical, health, and cognitive development, as well as other general learning competencies.
Sometimes people also forget that we are in fact small businesses. We need good policies to recruit and retain the best early education teachers. We are the service providers that allow working parents to get to their jobs.
When I opened my family child care center two years ago, I did it with the intention of bringing the best early childhood education to Weirton and bringing the first nationally accredited center to the area. That is still my goal, but in order to be there we need support. I want to ensure I am doing my part in helping make this the best possible community it can be. I want to do my part in making sure Weirton’s children are in the healthiest of villages. I want to make sure our children can thrive and shine. During COVID, small business child care centers like mine were supported with stabilization grants. In an unprecedented crisis, this saved our businesses, and that meant we were able to continue serving our children and families. I was able to buy a new building and increase the level of care and spots available (critical to bringing back the workforce across industries).
We were also able to support our employees by getting reimbursed to offer paid leave for employees needing time off to recover, care for a loved one, or care for their own health. The Build Back Better Plan would take those benefits a step further and permanently help businesses do the right thing for their workers and owners, like myself, who need time to heal, care for others or bond with a new child.
That’s why 70% of small business across the country support a national paid leave program, and 90% of respondents to a Main Street Alliance survey indicated support for investments in child care. Child care businesses already struggle to pay their employees what they deserve and simply do not have the capital to offer paid leave. A national paid leave policy would help child care businesses recruit and retain talented employees.
And the time is now. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that the support to heal and care is inextricably linked to our economy.
And for West Virginia small businesses and working families, the need is clear. In West Virginia, over 113,000 small businesses like myself employ over 49% of West Virginia’s workforce — higher than the national average. That means employees and business owners across our state are more likely not to have access to a private paid leave program through an employer. The private insurance market has priced us out. To level the playing field between big corporations and small businesses on retention and recruitment, and to allow our employees and ourselves the freedom to take the time to care when a medical surgery, new child, or elder parent needs it, we need to pass a federal program. We need to pass the Build Back Better plan, with all of its care investments.
I am so grateful to be able to keep my business thriving through the support of child care stabilization grant. But we are not done yet. We cannot let our foot off the gas if we want to have a resilient economic recovery.
Tiffany Gale of Weirton is the owner of Miss Tiffany’s Early Childhood Education Center, and a member of the Main Street Alliance in West Virginia.