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For the Love of Children: Unsung Heroes 

As a society, our children are our most precious resources, with nurturing and protecting them one of our most sacred duties. Children deserve safe, happy childhoods and it is up to all of us together to make that a reality. This week we honor children and those who care for them during the Week of the Young Child.

"In this critical time, child care providers are essential employees who continue to work so our doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, public safety officials and others can do their jobs to keep us safe," Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman said. "As we think about the important work all of our essential employees are doing, let's not forget that many can do their jobs better when they know their kids are safe in the hands of qualified childcare providers. Without a crisis, only 25 percent of parents can find access to their ideal childcare setting. In a crisis, it's even harder."

The pandemic illuminates the critical importance of high-quality childcare. According to a recent survey conducted by Changing Tides Family Services, an alarming 50 percent of our local childcare programs have closed in the past three weeks. The programs that remain open are providing a critical service, ensuring that first responders can be available during the crisis, while adjusting to the stresses that arise from the quickly changing circumstances to maintain safe and enriching early learning environments. Childcare providers have not been recognized as essential workers and their personal risks are high given they have a steady flow of children and adults coming and going from their business or homes, putting themselves and their families at risk.

Childcare is not a lucrative industry. Some small childcare providers will not be able to weather the current crisis, leaving our community severely lacking. And there's no telling if affected workers will recover. In a recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, nearly a third of childcare providers said they would not survive a shutdown that exceeded two weeks without public assistance. Between struggling to find supplies and losing business as parents pull their children out of childcare, it simply isn't sustainable to stay open.

"The economics are fragile in good times," says Rhian Evans Allvin, chief executive officer of the NAEYC. "When a crisis like this hits, it is devastating to the childcare field."

Humboldt County early childhood agencies have been working together to ensure the current needs of children and families are addressed. An emergency childcare task force team has convened with representation from Changing Tides Family Services, First Five Humboldt, Humboldt County Office of Education, Eureka City Schools and College of the Redwoods Child Development Department. It meets regularly to discuss the latest local data and guidance from the state. Its role is to collaborate and advocate for the childcare and mental health needs of local families.

Changing Tides is the central agency for matching the needs of essential workers with childcare programs that have space in the community. First Five Humboldt has surveyed parents to determine the needs of families with young children including mental health and the need for supplies, such as diapers and baby wipes. Eureka City Schools is offering to provide meals to young children in childcare within the district as an extension of their "free meals for kids" program. The Humboldt County Office of Education supports districts who are able to assist with emergency "pop up" childcare. To learn more about local resources for parents, educators and child care providers during this difficult time (as well as activities for the Week of the Young Child) visit the websites for Changing Tides Family Services, the Humboldt County Office of Education or First Five Humboldt.

Childcare is one of the most important economic issues of our time as it works indirectly to stimulate regional economic growth through its support of increased labor force participation and workforce education. States with high job participation rates and education levels consistently have higher incomes and lower poverty rates. Access to affordable childcare plays a critical role in the process by enabling parents to enter the workforce or to seek training and education. The Committee for Economic Development reports the childcare industry has a $99 billion economic impact with more than 80 percent of working families with children under the age of 5 needing childcare. Therefore, it is imperative that we ensure our local childcare businesses are supported to provide the care needed for the labor force.

Childcare providers deliver care and supervision for the children of our essential workforce and play a key role in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. During this Week of the Young Child, extend your thanks to those in our community who are taking care of young children: grandparents, neighbors, friends and childcare providers. They are the unsung heroes holding together the fabric of this community.

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Cindi Kaup

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