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In 2019, Rebecca Gonzalez's childcare services were in demand. The family child care educator — who had once got by with wages from her work at a party store — had just expanded her home-based child care business, Time to Learn Daycare, in the Bronx. When COVID-19 struck, many of her parents lost their jobs and Gonzalez’s enrollment dwindled to two children. Still, she stayed open, operating at a loss, because she knew they had no place else to go.

Gonzalez and the estimated 100,000 licensed family child care educators across the U.S. are the unsung heroes who have provided a lifeline for families during COVID-19. Not only did Gonzalez remain open, but she also created Zoom calls three times a week to see the rest of her children, connecting them with their peers and engaging them in fun learning activities.

“The government asked us to step up and support the essential workers, not realizing for months that we are essential workers,” asserted Rhonda Knowles, owner of Hide and Seek Family Child Care in West Haven, Connecticut.

It is a point Gonzalez underscored when she testified before the House Ways and Means Committee in April.

“We were expected to be on the frontlines … exposing our own families to risk,” she added.

Women hold up half the sky, as the adage goes, and when it comes to child care, that saying is far greater, and it is often women of color who bear that weight. Forty-five percent of family child care educators are people of color, representing the most racially diverse sector of the teaching workforce, compared to K-12 and postsecondary education, in which approximately 25% of educators are people of color.

Without family child care educators, workers would be hard-pressed to help this nation “Build Back Better.” They offer flexibility, an intimate setting, personalized attention, and culturally and linguistically relevant care. And in the patchwork of child care deserts across the U.S., especially for infants and toddlers, this type of care is a much-needed solution for parents who may not find any care at all.

Embracing family child care means embracing equity, but the industry remains in peril because providers cannot afford to do the work. The median annual income of child care providers before the pandemic was only $24,230, around $11.65 per hour, leaving many of these women straddling the federal poverty line. And for providers who care for children in their homes for 60 or more hours per week, they often make far below minimum wage, sometimes just $6.10 per hour.

The true cost of licensed child care for an infant is 43% more than what providers can be reimbursed through the child care subsidy program and 42% more than programs currently charge families. High operational costs and low wages led to the number of family child care homes decreasing across the country by 48% between 2005 and 2014. The pandemic is further exacerbating this trend.

On Oct. 28, when President Joe Biden announced the economic framework that could advance critical legislation for human infrastructure, it was a historic moment for family child care. Child care and pre-k would be funded at $400 billion, with proposals to dramatically increase access to family child care, ensuring this workforce receives sufficient compensation and professional development. Meaningful support would pay dividends to our economy as a whole as we continue to climb out of the economic slump sparked by the pandemic.

We know first-hand how critical it is that these child care provisions remain intact throughout the legislative process. Over 22 years, All Our Kin has supported more than 1,100 educators, including Gonzalez and Knowles, providing avenues for licensure, early childhood education workshops and small business resources. Many of our educators’ salaries increase by $5,000 after their first year of receiving this support; four or five parents go to work for every family child care business that opens; and every dollar invested yields $15 to $20 in increased gross regional product.

States can adapt and develop this model to reach more family child care educators, particularly with robust federal investment. Family child care empowers constituents on both sides of the aisle, something our lawmakers would be wise to remember as the human infrastructure bill comes to a vote.


Erica Phillips is Chief Impact Officer at All Our Kin, a national non-profit organization that trains, supports and sustains family child care educators.