Opinion: Providing reliable child care options will serve Virginia’s future
By BARRY DUVAL and MIKE PETTERS
We’re nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and too many families across Virginia remain unable to find quality, affordable child care. While these challenges predate the pandemic, unprecedented staffing shortages, limited operating hours, fewer program slots, and costly public health regulations across child care settings have pushed this crisis to a new level.
In fact, more than two-thirds of working parents’ jobs across Virginia are currently impacted by a lack of access to child care according to a December statewide poll released by Virginia Promise in Action. In the Hampton Roads area, the biggest impacts are parents taking time off from a job, reducing hours or leaving the workforce entirely to cope with child care needs.
With parents leaving the workforce, Virginia businesses and organizations are struggling to fill open positions to keep up with increased demand. These staffing shortages have hit virtually all sectors of Virginia’s economy. It means your package might not be delivered in time, your business can’t find adequate staffing, your test results might not be processed right away, or your shipbuilding/defense or construction contract may not be completed on schedule.
The crisis has disproportionately impacted women, who make up the overwhelming majority of workers who are involuntarily working part-time due to child care challenges. These adverse impacts on working mothers skyrocketed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 2 million women leaving the labor force since the start of the pandemic.
To address struggles faced by Virginia parents and businesses, the answer is clear. As outlined in the Virginia Chamber’s Blueprint Virginia 2030, we must take bold and concerted action to expand access to child care that works for families.
This first requires building innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors, now more important than ever, to meet the preferences of parents and the unique workforce needs of different regions of the commonwealth. Public-private partnerships in early education enable greater flexibility and nimble responsiveness to evolving parent and community priorities. As an example, the Mixed Delivery preschool program has demonstrated provider commitment to keeping early education classrooms open, in-person and for extended hours when families need them most.
Next, much like our economic development innovation, GO Virginia, we need to build out streamlined regional hubs to improve coordination, increase efficiencies, stimulate innovation and track impact. With boots on the ground, the new Ready Regions network will ensure greater accountability and quality supports, so every family and every child across Virginia has access to game-changing early education experiences and environments that fit their needs.
We need to reimagine our existing approach to early education. We must work alongside business, government, philanthropy and communities — with parents at the head of the table — to ensure we are building a cross-sector early education system that works for them. And we must address another key component of early success, the teachers who promote young children’s growth and learning, by supporting access to effective, affordable professional development and credentialing pathways.
Finally, Virginia’s leaders must make strategic investments today. As the 2022 General Assembly kicks off this week, we encourage legislators to increase access to quality early childhood education through strategic investments and effective policy for Virginia’s Mixed Delivery program, child care subsidy program and the Virginia Preschool Initiative. Parents need access and options for their children’s early education in order to return to the workplace.
Investments in our early education system will not only impact our current workforce, but the workforce of tomorrow. We can and must do better for Virginia’s children, families, businesses and economy. We must support a commonwealth that works — for parents, children, communities and businesses.
A strong early childhood education system is key to making Virginia the best place to work and raise a family.