A coalition of parents, early child care educators, community and business leaders has launched a groundbreaking early childhood campaign called Under 3 DC, calling on Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to invest $41.5 million into making high-quality, child care affordable and accessible for all families in the city.
The coalition of organizations, which includes DC Action for Children, D.C. Early Learning Collaborative, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Early Childhood Innovation Network, Educare DC, Jews United for Justice, Mary’s Center, and SPACEs in Action managed to convince D.C. City Council members to expand the Birth-to-Three bill in 2019 and allocate nearly $16 million towards child care in 2020. However, that is not nearly enough to ensure every child under three years of age can benefit from affordable, high-quality care.
Angelique Speight is a mother and child care provider who is very passionate about giving children the tools they need to succeed since birth. She heard about SPACEs in Action, also known as SIA, through one of her friends about a year ago, and once she connected with SPACEs In Action’s Executive Director LaDon Love, Speight realized her voice as a mother of a child with special needs can speak for thousands like her.
SIA has created a literal safe space for parents, especially women, to tell their stories regarding issues around economic justice, which includes child care and fair compensation for child care providers, who are predominantly women of color. Black and Brown mothers and fathers and other caregivers are fighting for more affordable child care and learning to advocate for themselves.
This Black-led grassroots organization was able to contribute to the major win in 2019 by showing up and speaking up. Now, with Under 3 DC, this child care movement wants to empower more low-income families to find high-quality early childhood care and expand the pool of skilled and experienced early childhood workers.
Child care providers are taxpayers, business owners, and a solid foundation for many of our families – they look after and care for our children to allow the rest of us to go to work. “When people feel their child is safe, they’re able to go to work peacefully, without worry,” said Speight.
Unfortunately, many families, particularly low income and families of color face barriers to academic achievement starting at birth. Child care for infants and toddlers is expensive in the District of
Columbia — one of the highest prices in the country.
The Under 3 DC website reports that 92 percent of D.C. families cannot afford infant child care and that there are currently 27,157 infants and toddlers under the age of three in D.C. They go further to report that only 8 percent of families in D.C. can afford the child care costs of up to $24,000 each year, which is higher than some tuition at public universities. Another alarming statistic reveals that the median income for white households in Washington, D.C. has increased over the past ten years to about $134,000, while the Black household median income is at about $42,000, causing parents of color to choose between paying rent and paying for child care.
If child care costs more than half of a parent’s income, it is impossible to access the necessary and appropriate care. This could lead to the responsibility falling on the parent, which for many ultimately means unemployment.
LaDon Love spends her time training women to articulate their stories in a way that can translate into policy solutions. “We trained up our member leaders, who are mostly Black women, to attend and participate in city council meetings. We trained them to tell their stories with the goal to take collective action and provide policy solutions,” said Love.
Speight, who runs an in-home child care center, where she cares for about six children daily, says SPACEs In Action has changed her life and others in advocating for this funding. “Child care providers who have children can barely afford child care for their own kids because they don’t make a living wage. How is that possible?” said Speight.
Moving forward, SIA and the rest of Under 3 DC will continue to push for more funding towards child care. While nearly $16 million is a win, they know that it will require upwards of public dollars from the local and federal levels to ensure families don’t have to worry about choosing between rent and child care, and for child care providers to be able to afford care for their own children.
“We’re not talking about minimum wage. That’s too low. We need living wages for these workers. If you have a child care provider who has a child, they most likely can’t afford child care for their own child, and that’s not right,” said Love. While this is a win, the fight isn’t over, which is why Under 3 D.C., plans to persistently pursue D.C. City Council until child care is affordable for all. No other major U.S. city has yet to implement a universal affordable early childhood care system for all, but organizers in D.C. are hopeful their city has the chance to set a precedent and be the success story every other city refers to in future policy making.
Love says the SPACEs In Action is continuing to build its base of grassroots leaders and is eager to expand its membership and broader support in order to build economic power among families of color in the District.
In February, parents, child care educators and community leaders with the Under 3 DC coalition gathered to attend MayorBowser’s first 2020 Engagement Forums to stand in support of young children and early childhood educators. Now, they are getting ready to testify in the upcoming FY21 budget hearings starting on March 24 at 10am. To join please visit Under3DC.org