Posted: August 26, 2020
By: Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and Child Care Services Association 

This is the second post of a three-part blog series.
Read Part 1 of this series: What is ECE and Why Should We Invest in it?
Read Part 3 of this series: Why ECE Builds Strong Families

High quality Early Care and Education (ECE) programs create safe, stable, nurturing environments, proven to prevent child maltreatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend investing in quality child care as a key strategy to prevent child maltreatment in their Essentials for Childhood technical assistance package.

Quality, affordable ECE programs allow parents to focus on work to provide for their family. Young children receive two meals and a snack each day. Many programs screen children for health and developmental concerns. Teachers observe children, using those observations to plan curriculum, support children’s needs and when necessary, make reports if they suspect maltreatment or neglect. Families are recognized as partners in their children’s care and parents are listened to and respected. High quality programs promote child health and safety by understanding the challenges their families are facing, connecting them to local resources or assisting them in creating and maintaining healthy environments for their children. Most importantly, ECE teachers are a trusted, knowledgeable source of information about the stages of child development and expectations for children’s behavior for many parents.

Unfortunately, the ECE system was broken long before COVID-19 struck because the economics do not work. Parents cannot afford the real cost of care, causing wage suppression.  Programs struggle to stay afloat. They are often one emergency away from closing. As a society, we are not investing in the ECE system the way we invest in subsidizing the public K-12 and university systems, yet the early childhood years build the foundation for future educational success.

More than 50 percent of the state’s highest quality rated ECE programs (4- and 5- stars) and 30 percent of all programs were closed at the end of June[1]. Those open were operating at less than full capacity; enrollment is down 67 percent nationally, and statewide, we are at 53 percent capacity. At the same time expenses are increasing, including 73 percent of programs spending more money on payroll to meet smaller group sizes  as required. With razor-thin operating margins before COVID-19, this is fast approaching a disaster. Programs will not be able to survive, leaving families without care, striking a blow to our workforce and our economy.

Many working parents will be forced to make hard choices. In some families, older siblings will have to drop out of school to care for younger children, school age children will come home to empty homes or in too many cases, families will be forced to rely on unstable and unsafe situations where their children’s health and safety may be endangered.

We can prevent this. We know how to create quality, affordable child care. In fact, the U.S. military has been doing it for decades. If we recognize ECE as a necessity for working families and support it with federal, state and local dollars (as we do with our K-12 and public university systems), not only will children and families thrive, so will our economy.

[1] DCDEE, July 2020.

This blog is also published by Child Care Services Association.

Child Care Services Association works to ensure affordable, accessible, high quality child care for all families through research, services and advocacy. We are a leader and advocate in child care services on the local, state and national level. We collaborate with many partners, businesses and stakeholders to address needs within the child care system.