Skip to main content

Disappearing Daycare: Part 4

Apr 06, 2024 11:28AM ● By Martin Davis

Developing consensus on what is meant by "high-quality" may not be as complicated as it sounds. When it comes to caring for young children and their education, the gulfs regarding best practices, rights and wrongs and how to define success are as yawning as the divide in the Great Rift Valley. However, when great childcare disappears, the outpouring from families and communities belies the consensus we share, regardless of our political orientation.

In Fredericksburg, the announcement that Kids Station would be closing unified the community around saving it. Mary Washington Healthcare and the parent company that operates Kids Station pivoted, publicly apologized, and agreed to keep the center open until a better solution could be found. If loss can unite us, why is it difficult to find a way to address the problem? The answer to that is complicated.

Defining 'High-Quality'

Defining what constitutes high-quality childcare is difficult. The one metric that people default to when looking at anything having to do with academics delivers mixed messages. A 2022 report from the Economist found that while there are plenty of success stories about the impact of early-childhood education, there are important counter-balances. Other meta-analyses are more optimistic about the impact of high-quality childcare. A 2023 meta-study by the Office of the Administration for Children & Families, for example, found that:

"The benefits of high-quality ECE for the child often last into kindergarten, and some studies show lasting effects into middle school and high school. The quality of later schooling that a child experiences can either build upon or counteract these benefits. Even though evidence for long-term effects of ECE on child development is mixed, some studies show that participating in high-quality ECE yields long-term advantages for individuals and for society, including higher educational attainment, better adult health, and less involvement in crime."

Research on the matter is ongoing. The definition of quality is becoming more evidence based as newer, validated measures become available. State licensing standards have been the traditional benchmarks, but they set a minimum standard that is typically less than the recommendations of health and safety experts. National organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children have developed standards and voluntary systems of accreditation that are often more robust than state licensing regulations.

An AAP study revealed indicators of successful childcare, which includes what many would consider "commonsense" matters: infection control, good nutrition, a clean and healthy environment, physical activity, injury prevention, and emergency procedures. It's not uncommon when talking to parents searching for good childcare to hear that they've walked into facilities and just as quickly walked out because these commonsense items are not in sight.


Declining Daycare

The trouble finding daycare is tied to a number of problems. One is space. In our February 16 story, "The Childcare Crisis Is Here," one parent summed up the shortage of daycare succinctly:

“My husband spent the whole morning today on the phone,” Wendy Thomas, a mother of two said after the announcement that Kids Station was closing. “He called all the way around town and was told summer care (for their 6-year-old) will be extremely difficult and that we may be able to get the 4-year-old into care in the fall. But at this point, nothing is available in May.”

MWHC, in an attempt to help affected families, put together a spreadsheet of available child care centers that did more to highlight the difficulties families face than it did to help alleviate the fears families face daily.

"There were twenty-two providers on the list," we reported. "Of those, one is recently opened and looks to potentially have a significant number of slots. Other locations were reporting possible openings in May, waiting lists, or were only able to take certain age groups. Seven are not currently accepting new people."

Families are constrained by more than open spaces. Cost is another factor. A recent report by JLARC, "Virginia's Self-Sufficiency Programs and the Availability and Affordability of Child Care," found that childcare is unaffordable for 85% of families with infants, 82% of families with toddlers, and 74% of families with preschoolers. The situation is even worse for low-income families. Just 2% of these families with infants and toddlers, and 3% of these families with preschoolers could shoulder the costs of day care.

Not Just About The Children

Another complication is the reality that quality childcare is wrapped up in more than making sure children have the best possible experience. There are also impacts relating to adult employment and the economy. This tension has always been with us, but the pandemic has exasperated the problem. Though it was popular for some businesses to post signs post-pandemic that blamed their difficulty on finding people to work because they'd become "lazy" or dependent on "government handouts," the reality is that the cost of daycare, as well as the shortage of daycare seats, was more to blame. Millions of women left the workforce during the pandemic due to child care challenges.

Fixing the childcare problem will not by itself fix our workforce shortage, academic achievement gaps or family poverty. However, because childcare sits at the nexus of all these issues, failing to address it will ensure we struggle more than we need to in these areas.

Get Our Newsletters
* indicates required
FredParent eletters
Read Our Digital Issue
From Our Partners