As the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly swept the world back in March, parents and children alike were ushered into their homes as businesses and schools closed due to the shelter-at-home orders. For many parents, this meant having to make huge adjustments to keep their children busy while also working from home. A large number of parents took on the role of not only being “Mom” and “Dad,” but also being stand-in teachers and educators, especially in lower income households where students reported not having much interaction with their real teachers. But what about the essential workers who could not stay home with their kids? And how did the parents of special needs students and English language learners cope with losing the help and support they had previously gotten from their child’s school?
Pondering the unique obstacles presented in these scenarios has led us to examine an often overlooked consequence of the Corona Virus pandemic:
People may never look at childcare the same. Or will they?
When you crunch the numbers, America has seemingly always made childcare a top priority—or at least they have in the past 40 years or so. According to the a 2013 paper written by two professors from the University of Sydney and the University of Pennsylvania, per-child spending on childcare in the U.S. increased 2,000 percent from 1970 to 2000. Could this be not because parents have begun to care about childcare more in the last 40 years, but that many parents no longer have the time to be stay-at-home caretakers?
The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reported that the overall percentage of kids ages 4 to 5 years old who were enrolled center-based care before kindergarten, such as preschools and childcare facilities, was higher in 2012 than in 1995. In contrast though, the percentage of children in home-based care (with a non-relative) was higher in 1995 than in 2012 (7% vs 11%, respectively).
As the effects of the pandemic continue to wane on and a large number of parents begin to lean in favor kids returning to school, there has been great debate over whether or not this is the best course of action for children.
On the one hand, it is obviously safer for students to continue distance-learning from the shelter of their own homes. However, many parents argue that the quality of education provided from at-home, online learning will set a whole generation of students behind.
NCES reported in a study of first-time kindergarteners’ academic skills and learning behaviors that children who’s primary care arrangement mostly included home-based relative care tended to score lower in reading, math, and cognitive flexibility compared to their peers who had attended center-based care.
As children are asked to continue their studies from home, it begs the question of what will happen to low-income essential workers who cannot afford this center-based care.
In California, the cost of a typical day-care center is now equal to almost half of the median income of a single mother. The typical family paying for any child care spends about 10 percent of their income on it, far more than in most similarly rich countries.
Thankfully, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors allocated $15 million in federal stimulus funding toward child-care vouchers for essential workers and low-income families.