The New Republic has a grim piece up: The Hell of American Day Care, by Jonathon Cohn. The article centers on the story of Kendyll Mire, a toddler killed in a fire at an in-home day care in Houston in 2011, and you should know before you decide to click that it is pretty gut-wrenching.
But Cohn does a good job of filling in the social and historical context of how pre-kindergarten child care is provided and regulated in this country—in contrast to many other countries where child care is seen as a national priority. From the article:
- About 8.2 million children under five are in some kind of care.
- In 2011, the median salary for a child care worker was $19,430.
(For comparison, full-time work at $12/hour is about $24,000.)
- Full-time licensed child care can cost as much as $15,000 a year.(National averages are $11,666 for infants and $8,800 for preschool)
- Very poor families can get a tax credit worth up to $1,050 a year per child.
(There’s a wealth of detail at Child Care America’s National Report.)
Kendyll’s story is harrowing, but Cohn’s bleak picture of the U.S. chid care market is a reality we Montessorians need to face if we are to bring our work to children and families who need it most. Many of us work in a different world, and we don’t really understand the scale of what’s happening outside our (frankly) boutique niche. Here’s what the article makes clear:
- Many households, often headed by single mothers, need child care so they can work.
- Many child care choices are poorly regulated, don’t respond to child development, and can’t pay practitioners well or attract educated skilled workers.
- Yet these programs are barely in reach of the families who need it most.
And here are some facts about Montessori
- Although elementary and adolescent work is thriving and expanding, most Montessori is taking place at the child care level, especially worldwide.
- Montessori has a fantastic but little-known child-development based model of infant-toddler and preschool level care.
- Our programs are not necessarily that expensive. You can look up your state here (pdf), on page 36. You may find your program $1000 or so of the state average.
So? If schools can find a way to reach these families, and to bridge the affordability gap, with financial aid, tax credits, and state subsidies that may exist, we could serve a lot of children who really need it, and be a bigger part of the child development and child care conversation in society. This is our growth opportunity.
Finally, some observations about child care programs in public life:
Kendyll’s world is the world our regulators see. It’s the reason for ratio and inspection rules we sometimes chafe against. As we join the ongoing conversations in many states about standards and practices—and we need to be there—this has to inform our message: We understand where you’re coming from, what you see. Montessori is different. Come see for yourselves. We might even have something to offer. Come see for yourselves.
High profile articles like Cohn’s don’t happen in a vacuum. Obama’s State of trhe Union put preschool and child care on the national agenda for the next few years. The conversation is going to be about Quality of Care, High-Quality Preschool, and it’s happening already, in Oregon, in California, in Florida, and likely in your state as well. And it’s not about better private preschools for families who can well afford it. It’s about serving children and families who can’t. If we’re going to reach more children, we’re going to have to start reaching where the children who need us actually are.