Nearly everyone who has worked in the field of early education has had the experience of hearing the expertise required to work with very young children dismissed as little more than “babysitting.”
It’s a serious issue.
When policymakers and voters do not understand that the foundation of quality early education begins with a highly skilled workforce, they are far less likely to make the investments required to ensure that every child has access to high quality care and education.
So we asked the experts for advice, opening our panel discussion on Family Child Care (FCC) held during this year’s Leadership Forum on Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice with the question, “What do you see as the key to changing people’s mindsets about early educators?”
Although our four experts came from different regions of the country, their answers centered on the same thing: using the tools of persuasion—language and stories—to change hearts and minds.
“Early Education is one of the most fundamental experiences in our lives,” said Jessica De Jesus Acevedo, PMC 2020, ECEC Doctoral Student and owner of Little Star of Ours family child care in Cambridge. “We must change the narrative of early education as being unaffordable. The cost of childcare is an investment, and it should not continue to be reflected as a financial burden.”
“The language has to change,” added Dottie Williams, SBIC ’18, PMC ’20, ECEC Doctoral Student and owner of Dottie’s Family Childcare in Dorchester. “We swing between being called educators, providers, babysitters, and/or teachers. I view myself as an educator, as a professional educator/teacher who provides services not only to early childhood but to my families and the community that I serve.”
Jerletha McDonald, Founder and President of the ADFW Family Child Care Network Arlington, Texas and host of the highly acclaimed podcast The Jerletha McDonald Show: Everything Childcare, agreed.
Noting that she always refers to family childcare owners as “executives, business owners, business women, and powerful,” McDonald said that using this language was key to “changing” the way that family child care providers and early educators from other types of programs are viewed.
“The idea that we are babysitters? We are not babysitters,” said Roxana Flores, a graduate of our Leading for Change program and owner of Roxana’s Day Care in San Jose, California. “We are professionals. We are educators. We need to help those who work in government and other environments understand this. Because we are serious.”
Anne Douglass, PhD, a professor of early care and education (ECE) at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation, introduced the panel to attendees of the Leadership Forum.
“Home-based family childcare programs are a foundation of the early care and education sector. Families of young children consistently choose family childcare settings at high levels,” Douglass told attendees, noting that in 2019 more than 1 million FCC providers in the U.S. cared for 4.3 million children.
Despite that high demand, in recent decades the number of FCC’s has dropped by 35 percent, added Douglass. FCC’s, she said, are “excluded from many of the resources, supports, and systems more readily available” to school- and center-based programs.
“We routinely see that many published early childhood curriculums don’t work for the mixed age groups and groups sizes commonly found in FCC settings. And we see bureaucratic obstacles such as housing policies related to operating a home-based childcare business,” Douglass said.
Moderated by Douglass and Lynne Mendes, the Leadership Institute’s director of leadership development, the panel focused on the integral role FCCs play in the early educator sector.
Asked by Mendes about the single most important change to FCC that she is working on, McDonald responded, “that would be leadership within the family child care executive community.”
“It is the time to innovate,” said McDonald, noting that federal American Rescue Plan Act funds are being given to the states to help early care and education providers sustain their businesses in the wake of the pandemic. In her home state of Texas, for instance, licensed providers can receive up to $50,000 in recovery funds.
“What I tell FCC executives is that this is the time to use those funds to not only sustain your business and grow your business but to elevate your business and to re-invest in your business,” McDonald said.
Mendes next asked De Jesus Acevedo about what FCC programs bring to the community and the families they serve. Her response? Small class sizes, a safety net and sustainable community spaces.
As an FCC provider De Jesus Acevedo said her smaller classes have meant less spread of COVID-19, more one-on-one interaction with educators and peers, and a greater ability to support first-time parents and families in areas like child development, literacy and preparing for their children’s next educational steps.
De Jesus Acevedo noted that Little Star of Ours has successfully served “a large number of families” with a team of trained experts and bilingual educators—including Spanish and Haitian Creole—which benefits children academically and in their linguistic development. FCC providers, she said, serve as a source of support for all members of a family depending on the need, such as when first-time parents are transitioning back to work and experiencing separation anxiety and other stressors.
Williams was asked for ideas to retain early educators already in the field and recruiting talent to the ranks. She began by suggesting that ECE be presented as a worthy career option to high school students so that they realize at a young age that it is a profession that offers a sustainable career with long-term benefits not just for themselves but for their communities.
Asked for ideas to increase pay for early educators, Flores said the profession needs “a powerful voice” and a unified front focused on making law and policy makers “understand and know that we provide quality service where the children are learning, where the children are safe when their families go to work.” The ECE workforce, added Flores, must prioritize advocacy for retirement benefits, insurance programs, and other resources to help ECE educators sustain their careers.
“We are here because we like to educate people, educate children, to empower our families,” said Flores. “Most of us, we are businesswomen, of course men, too, but we need to empower each other. We need to be together [and] stand for our rights.”
De Jesus Acevedo added that advocacy elevating FCC required ensuring that more FCC providers “are at the table” when policy decisions are being made. Part of making that happen, she said, was to change ECE administrative infrastructure so that it is more responsive to the long hours that FCC providers work. Most meetings are held during the day, making it all but impossible for ECE providers to attend public or financial meetings and receive professional development. Merely holding important meetings in the evening, as many local school committees do, will make them more accessible to FCC providers. “That is how we ensure providing equity in representation,” De Jesus Acevdeo said.
Flores emphasized the importance of early educators banding together to advocate for higher pay with lawmakers and to be recognized by them and our larger society as “teachers, professionals, educators.”
Like McDonald, Williams also said that as early educators the language we use to describe work matters. “I view myself as an educator—as a professional educator-slash-teacher who provides services not only to [young children] but to my families and the community that I serve.”