Child Care Can Provide Stability for Children and Families Buffeted by Economic Storms
Every time I hear the latest numbers on job losses, home foreclosures, or any of the other turbulence buffeting low-income families these days, I think about the children and the havoc these changes are creating in their lives. We know, from both research and our own common sense, that without stability children can’t develop a sense of trust in the world around them – trust that is absolutely central for their development and learning. Yet in our current economic situation, children’s stability is being challenged repeatedly.
For children whose parents work, the stability of child care is crucial in establishing this foundation for healthy development. And stable child care is equally important for their parents – helping them keep their jobs despite other turbulence in their lives, keeping their children safe while they search for work, and giving them the assurance that there is someone to love and care for their children while they cope with the emotional and logistical fall-out of their own challenges. So child care can be a stabilizing force in the lives of low-income children and their parents – helping mitigate the effects of instability in other parts of their lives.
Unfortunately, policies intended to help low-income working parents afford care haven’t always understood this important role. Instead of buffering the effects of instability on children, they have often inadvertently done the opposite – cutting off child care assistance when parents lose their jobs or making them jump through hoops at the very times when they are overwhelmed with other demands. This can exacerbate work and personal problems, leading to further instability.
The good news is that policymakers have started to recognize this problem. They are exploring helpful changes such as:
- Extending the time parents can keep their assistance after they lose a job so they can search for a new one.
- Simplifying red tape so parents don’t have to fill out new forms or go in for an interview for every small change in their circumstances.
- Making sure that the payment levels and procedures for paying child care providers don’t inadvertently undercut their financial viability and thus make them unstable as well.
- Helping parents find the right child care for their kids’ particular needs.
Sadly, it’s tough to make these changes when there simply isn’t enough money to serve all the eligible families, further cuts in federal funding are threatened, and states are downsizing the offices that are supposed to help families. So these days, we have to watch state and local child care programs make hard choices between serving new families who may lose their jobs if they don’t get help paying for child care, and families who are already getting help but have lost their jobs and need to keep their child care to get back on their feet. Still, it’s encouraging that policymakers are starting to recognize the key role that child care can play in stabilizing at least one facet of the turbulence buffeting low-income working families.