(Apr 3, 2017) Catherine Read talks with Grace Reef, President of the Early Learning Policy Group, about child care policy in Virginia. This show was live broadcast 2 days before the only child care bill that survived the 2017 Virginia Legislative Session (SB 1239) was voted on by the Veto Session convened on April 5, 2017. Governor Terry McAuliffe amended the bill passed by both chambers re-inserting language that better protects the safety of children. Grace works with Child Care Aware Virginia, an organization that maintains a Virginia Education and Action Center online, which is the best place to find reliable information on the state of child care in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Grace Reef started her career in the U.S. Senate where she worked on policy development around issues of early childhood education and development, some specific to the child care setting. As a consultant, she works with a number of agencies in states throughout the country, sorting through data and research studies that show the impact of early childhood experience on long term health, achievement and life outcomes. She acknowledges that we often separate child care into separate issues of safety and quality, as if they are distinct from one another. Safety builds the floor to quality care and Virginia has not made sufficient progress in addressing public policy that provides oversight to those providing care – whether it’s in a child care center or in a home based setting.
One of the perplexing aspects of moving the needle forward on better quality child care in Virginia is the lack of connection between economic development agencies, elected leaders, Chambers and business owners with the need to provide quality child care for a workforce made up of working families with children. Grace talks about her work with The Committee for Economic Development (CED), a non-profit based in DC, that is the voice of business leadership working in states around the nation to advocate for better public policy to support working families with children.
Virginia has a shocking track record of child care deaths – over 60 deaths in the last ten years – that place us at the top of a list we don’t want to be on. Here in Northern Virginia, we have had a child care permitting process in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County. Fairfax County’s Office for Children was established in 1975. Virginia has 95 counties and 38 independent cities and in a majority of the Commonwealth, the only “regulation” is Virginia’s state policy around what is a “licensed” child care program. A requirement of licensing for home based daycare was changed last year, making the license a requirement for the care of 5 children (instead of 6 children.)
Also in 2016, operating an unlicensed child care home/center was changed from a misdemeanor to a felony. This was in the aftermath of a tragic death in Chesterfield County, VA, where 1 year old Joseph Allen died as a result of a house fire in an unlicensed child care home with no fire extinguisher, no working smoke detectors, no evacuation plan and no list of what children were in the home that day.
Safe, affordable, quality child care is integral to the health and well being of every community in Virginia. It’s not just a concern for parents with children, it’s the foundation of healthy school systems and a workforce that needs child care in order to be able to work. Employers, small business owners and Chambers of Commerce need to connect investment in better child care to strengthening economic growth and development in every community in Virginia. The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine has done the research on Financing Early Care and Education with a Highly Qualified Workforce. There is no shortage of compelling data, we are jut not connecting the dots at this point. That needs to change, and it’s going to take a lot of voices to change it.
For further information on the research being done on early childhood development check out Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, specifically Harvard’s Brain Research (Birth to Age 3)