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In Quotes: Holiday Edition

November 26, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children. Turkey by Rylie Robinson

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children  Turkey by Rylie Robinson

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“We know that grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives.”

Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University Psychology Professor, in the Washington Post article, “Teaching kids to be grateful may have long-term benefits even though it’s not easy,” November 21, 2011

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“…perhaps the biggest political opportunity for both parties lies in the nonpartisan issue of early childhood education.”

A memo from Jim Messina, a former campaign manager for President Barack Obama, and Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election; on behalf of the First Five Years Fund, November 10, 2014

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“Happy Thanksgiving!”

The Staff at Strategies for Children, November 26, 2014

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Low Salaries Plague the Early Education and Care Workforce: A New Study

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

A new study points out the obvious — the early education and care workforce is undervalued and underpaid, and has been for decades. This is especially problematic today as economists and policymakers call for more children to have access to high-quality early education. The only way to provide this level of quality is by having highly skilled, well-paid early educators who can help raise educational standards, close the achievement gap, and prepare young children for success in kindergarten.

The study — “Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study” — comes from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, part of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. It was written by Marcy Whitebook, Deborah Phillips, and Carollee Howes.

The original 25-year-old Staffing Study “first shined a light on the fact that many early care and education teachers earn[ed] poverty-level wages a quarter of a century ago,” New America says. “This new report provides an update on the state of the child care workforce and offers new evidence of their economic insecurity.”

The report points to three “persistent features of early childhood jobs that require a new policy approach:”

• pervasive economic insecurity in the workforce

• the low-value afforded to educational attainment by workforce members, and

• an irrational wage structure

The study’s corresponding statistics are dispiriting.

“…preschool teachers earned 60 percent of the hourly wage of kindergarten teachers in 2013. Childcare workers’ wages grew by only one percent between 1997 and 2013, a smaller increase than that of fast food cooks and tellers, indicating that their wages during this period barely kept pace with the increasing cost of living,” the study says.

And although wages have remained low, parents’ child care costs have shot up. “Between 1997 and 2011, average weekly child care payments for children under five years of age more than doubled, from $67.40 in 1997 to $179.00 in 2011 (an 89 percent increase in constant 2011 dollars).”

The report adds: “In both 1997 and 2013, child care workers remained stuck at the second or third percentile in the BLS [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics] rankings of occupations by mean annual salary. Among the occupations that shared these rankings with childcare workers are food preparation workers, parking lot attendants, bartenders, hotel desk clerks, and laundry and dry-cleaning workers.”

In Massachusetts, early educators earn far less than it takes to adequately support themselves and their families. The report shares these statistics about the commonwealth:

Child Care Workers’ Actual Mean Hourly Wage:

1997: $8.58
2013: $12.47

Preschool Teachers’ Actual Mean Hourly Wage:

1997: $10.10
2013: $16.64

Kindergarten Teachers’ Actual Mean Hourly Wage:

1997: $16.97
2013: $30.62

One costly result of this persistent low pay, is that workers rely on social support programs such as food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet.

“Nearly one-half (46 percent) of childcare workers resided in families enrolled in one or more public support programs annually, compared to 25 percent of the U.S. workforce as a whole,” the report says.

To address the sweeping problem of low wages, the report calls for “a comprehensive reassessment of the nation’s early education and care policies” that attempts, in part, to:

• “identify and mobilize a sustainable, dedicated source of public funding to upgrade the compensation of those who care for and educate our nation’s young children,”

• “prepare a rational and equitable set of guidelines for determining regionally-based entry-level wages and salary increases based on education and training, experience, and seniority within the early childhood field.”

• “establish workplace standards necessary for teachers to engage in professional practice, such as paid planning time,” and,

• “develop a strategy and timeline for requiring that all ECE programs and providers receiving public funds comply with the compensation guidelines and work standards within a reasonable period of time.”

The report also points to “immediate opportunities” for improvement, including:

• states using their Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and joining with organizations such as NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) to strengthen quality improvement strategies by including “workplace and compensation policies” among their criteria

• Head Start’s next reauthorization could nclude a “request for increased and earmarked federal funding, dedicated to bringing Head Start and Early Head Start teaching staff salaries in line with Head Start teachers’ dramatically increased qualifications,” and,

• providing funds for states to “build, strengthen and sustain data systems, such as workforce registries, that provide comprehensive data on wages, benefits, educational levels, and turnover rates for all teaching staff across ECE settings receiving public dollars…”

Can the country muster the policy-making and financial strength to tackle this problem? It certainly has before. The report notes:

“During World War II, the nation mobilized and paid certified teachers to work in the child care centers serving the children whose mothers were ‘manning’ the war factories. The Head Start program has steadily increased the share of its teachers with bachelor’s degrees, now exceeding 50 percent. The Department of Defense re-invented its early care and education system as a compact with service members that their children would be well cared for by competent, adequately compensated teachers…”

“These decisive efforts demonstrate the power of leadership to set and achieve aspirational goals that spur our nation to make the changes we need. It is our hope that the new evidence reported here will spur the nation to not only aspire to, but also guarantee livable, equitable, and dependable wagers for early childhood teachers, of whom we expect so much, but to whom we still provide so little.”

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Invite Gratitude into Your Life Every Day

I love November; a month filled with reminders to be thankful. It’s such a simple concept, yet we always need reminders to be grateful for what we have.  As many single parents know, me included, it’s so easy to get caught up in the mantra of wanting MORE. We want MORE money because we’re exhausted from stretching that paycheck until it screams. We want MORE breaks in life because, quite honestly, sometimes just surviving the day wipes us out. We want MORE opportunities for our kids because we feel that living in a single-parent home puts them at a disadvantage. And we want MORE love in our lives because, dang it, it feels good; sometimes I feel like I can go three days just on a heartfelt compliment!
 
At different times in my life, I’ve found that if I don’t take the time to recognize and appreciate the gifts the world offers each day, I start to become insatiable: wanting bigger, better, faster, more.  I feel seemingly incapable of being grateful for the all the small things that, in actuality, are the big things. Yet how do we develop “an attitude of gratitude” that isn’t limited to the month of November? I want this practice to become a part of my everyday routine, all year round.
 
I’m a strong believer in the “fix what you can and let go of the rest” approach.  Yes, I’ve had to work hard and child support was sporadic, but I’ve been able to support my boys pretty well—that’s something to be grateful for. While our home has drafty windows and tiny bedrooms, we all have our own space.  Our vehicles are over ten years old, but they deliver everyone safely to school and work. It could be so much worse.
 
But it’s even more than that.  It’s not just about appreciating that we’re not at rock bottom.  It’s about valuing what we do have.  I remind myself that I live in a neighborhood so safe that I’ve never even seen a smashed pumpkin.  That my boys were able to attend a very impressive school district filled with teachers who poured knowledge into them; that my children are witty, bright and kind.  And having kids who are healthy and thriving is something to cherish.
 
In my bedside table is a notebook that I have used in the past to list five blessings daily. Reviewing those gems is a delightful way to see all of the riches around me, and to open my eyes to the beauty and love that is always present. I think it’s time to make recording those daily blessings a habit again.
 
When my boys were quite young we were big fans of the “list three good things that happened to you today” ritual during dinner. I wish I had recorded those moments!  Still, it’s not too late to resurrect that routine.
 
I no longer want to take for granted that my cupboards always have enough food to keep my family vibrant and strong; that nature presents such incredible beauty, even in the midst of a snowstorm or cloudy day. I want to smile as I think of how my boys always hold a door open for someone, or ask others how their day is going. I never want to ignore that I have a job that makes me happy, with coworkers who are rooting for my success. How about the fact that we have clean drinking water coming out of every faucet in our homes! This is such a basic, simple thing, yet how many thousands of women in other countries spend their days walking for hours to get their families’ daily supply of water?
 
What could you do in your home, with your family, to take the focus away from wanting more and place it on learning to appreciate what you already possess? Teaching this lesson to our kids is one of the finest ways we can help them grow into the adults this world so desperately needs. Be grateful!

Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.

If you find any comments that are rude or inappropriate, please contact us immediately.

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Congress and the President Reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant

November 24, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson from the White House Blog

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson from the White House Blog

Last week, federal child care law got an important overhaul: Congress passed the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG). And President Obama signed it into law.

In a rare show of political unity, both Democrats and Republicans supported the bill. According to the news website Syracuse.com, “Congress reauthorized the $5.3 billion per year program on Monday with strong bipartisan support for a deal crafted by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.”

Due for reauthorization since 2002, the new law reflects “input from parents, childcare providers, and early learning and development experts,” this Congressional summary explains.

The law emphasizes “training, professional development, and improvements to health and safety requirements,” the summary says. In addition, the law “focuses on giving families more stability in the CCDBG program by ensuring that children who initially qualify for a subsidy get care for at least a year.”

“However,” the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) warns, “the reauthorization does not meaningfully increase funding for CCDBG above FY 2014 levels ($2.36 billion).” NWLC’s analysis includes a chart comparing the old CCDBG law to the new one. Among the new provisions that the chart points to are a “national toll-free hotline and website to disseminate consumer education information, help parents access quality child care in their communities (with a range of price options), and allow reports (anonymous if desired) of suspected child abuse/health and safety violations at CCDBG providers.”

New America’s EdCentral blog explains, “CCDBG will also ensure kids are much safer. Currently, most states allow some smaller providers to operate without a license–which means they also operate without the types of regular health and safety inspections other child care providers are subject to. Now, though, even license-exempt providers will have to pass annual fire, health, and safety inspections.”

Political and Nonprofit Leaders’ Reaction to CCDBG

“Well, as many of you know, one of my top priorities is making sure that we’ve got affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education for our young people across the country,” Obama said at the bill signing. “Today, I am pleased to sign a bill into law which is going to bring us closer to that goal — that’s the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. I want to thank bipartisan members of Congress who are here today.”

Some of those Congressional members released their own statements.

“Every month, an average of 39,000 Tennessee children get childcare through this program while their parents earn an education or build a career,” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said in a joint statement. “The legislation passed today will continue success stories like the Memphis mother whose infant received care through this program while she earned a business degree and rose to assistant manager at a Walmart, enabling her to pay for the care of her second child at the same childcare center.”

Alexander is the ranking republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

“I introduced this legislation together with Senator Burr to ensure that child care across America is available, affordable, reliable, safe and exceptional,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said in the joint statement.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said, “CCDBG is a welfare reform success story — supporting the safety and education of our children while empowering parents to take control of their own future.”

And as Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, said of CCDBG being reauthroized, “This is a great day for children and families across the U.S. – following a year of unprecedented action and momentum on the issue of early childhood education.”

We’re excited to see that powerful momentum continue as the country moves toward a new year.

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Thanksgiving doesn't have to be perfect to be perfectly wonderful

“Thanksgiving involves an act of the will. It’s not a question of pretending that everything is bright and beautiful when you know it’s not. To give thanks is to stand up in the face of the storm and declare that life is worth living.” -Charles Henderson


If you live in the US, you’re already gearing up for Thanksgiving Thursday. (If it isn’t Thanksgiving where you live, I hope this post will start you thinking about your December holiday.)

Are you wondering how to go beyond mere gluttony to add some meaning and gratitude?  I’m the first to trumpet the benefit to our kids — and ourselves — of rituals, and of learning the habit of gratitude.  And you’ll find plenty of ideas on the Aha! Parenting website to add meaning to your family’s Thanksgiving.

But my plea to you this week is to remember that perfection is not attainable, and striving for that magazine-spread holiday will only stress you out and make you yell at your kids. Luckily, perfection isn’t necessary for you and your family to have a perfectly wonderful Thanksgiving.

You know those moments when pandemonium reigns, and your kids are spinning out of control, and your difficult relative is acting, well, difficult, and you have to choose between striving for a storybook Thanksgiving versus grabbing your kids and getting them outside for some old fashioned fresh air before everyone loses their mind? There’s not really a choice.  Give up on perfection and go for love.

Storybook holidays are limited to storybooks. Real parents get reality parenting, complete with cranky kids, messy kitchens, and store-bought pie.  But extraordinary moments often masquerade as ordinary life. So maybe what’s perfect about Thanksgiving is the opportunity to notice what makes our lives worth living. In hard times, there’s so much to be grateful for. 

As author Meg Cox says, “It’s especially important during the holidays to remember that aiming for a PERFECT holiday is actually a bad goal. Not only is perfection impossible and striving for it adds stress, but honestly, the holidays families remember most fondly are those when the dog ate the cake, or everybody got the flu on Thanksgiving. Play it loose, have a sense of humor…”

So look around the pandemonium and remind yourself to be grateful for every minute you get to spend with your children as they grow.  For me, there’s no gratitude deeper than that.

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