Some people shy away from asking tough questions. We are not those people. In fact, we find it practically impossible not to have our minds race with questions about everything we hear in meetings, in the news, in the research and books we read!
Recently, Groundwork Ohio released research they conducted on the state of early childhood care and education in Ohio. You can access it here: https://www.groundworkohio.org/dashboard. It shared a lot of data, and in the section on early education asked big questions such as:
- Who has access to Early Head Start?
- Who received child care subsidies?
- Is the child care paid for by subsidies high quality?
- Are low income families enrolling children in preschool?
Unfortunately, for the most part, the answers were not good. Only 12% of income eligible children were enrolled in Early Head Start. Only 4.3% of low and moderate income eligible families received child care subsidies.
With these results, it was impossible for us not to respond with our favorite question: WHY?
Unfortunately, the report did not dig any deeper into this data. And this is where it triggers us. There is SO MUCH MORE to find out about the successes and challenges in early care and education! And not just in Ohio. Yet, research tends to continue to only skim the surface. We understand that sometimes that is simply what the job was – researchers are hired to answer specific questions. But we also know that there are many organizations and state agencies that either don’t know what questions to ask and are not given the guidance to ask them. It’s the “you don’t know what you don’t know” adage.
We understand these limitations, it’s one of the reasons we started our company. Family Child Care Experts LLC exists in order to help others better understand family child care, to ask the tough questions and the detailed questions that get to that important question: WHY?
What is frustrating about reports like the Groundworks report, and so many other state reports like it, is that the conclusion is often: Let’s use this to advocate for more money in the field to fix it. Then, when more money flows into the system, unfortunately, it’s used to provide funding to organizations that already exist, to fund programs they are already doing, and ultimately not make a bit of difference. This happens because lawmakers do not understand the early care and education field. Some see it just as babysitting. Some see it as education and don’t understand why it’s not all a part of school district activity. Many have no idea the number of small business owners it represents. No one seems to grasp just how vital the entire system is to our functioning as a country, even with the pandemic shining an enormous spotlight on it.
We’ve heard stories from advocates about legislators who thought programs could charge whatever they wanted to, so they should be making lots of money, correct? Or that all children have access to free or reduced cost child care, correct? Or that all families have a center or family child care provider in their area, correct? Or that all children are eligible for free school district PreK so there’s no reason to have private child care, correct? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
When they are filled with misunderstandings of the field, it’s no surprise they don’t know what to do with the funding even when they get it.
Of course, there are plenty of non-profits out there fighting for the funds as well. Not to mention the government agencies looking to stay alive. Everyone wants a piece. And we don’t have a problem with that. What we have a problem with is getting that piece and not taking the time to figure out the best way to spend it. And, for the people giving the funding to not to bother to ask the tough questions to truly find out if it’s making a difference.
The fact that current data shows an abysmal picture of the field answers that question pretty well: No, it’s not.
Case in point, we are working with a state right now that on paper looks like it is making a difference (we’ll leave the state name out because it’s not the point, this is happening everywhere). They provide scholarships for providers looking to take higher education classes. They pay for coaching as well. There is a lot of money flowing, and a look at the money shows lots is being spent on scholarships, lots on coaching, lots on completion funds. Sounds great, right? But, when you look at more than the money, but the numbers of providers, how many enrolled, dropped out, completed a degree, etc. You find that there is a lot of money going out the window. A large majority of these providers enroll, but then drop out. But the coaching is still getting paid for the drop outs. And no one is asking the biggest question we see: WHY are they dropping out? We dug in deeper, asked providers, asked teachers, asked the coaches. We’re hopeful this will all turn around and what was intended as a great program will go on to actually make the difference it was designed to do. And stop wasting money.
At FCCE, we surprise people all the time with our questions. And, it continues to surprise us that they’ve never heard someone ask that question before, or that the data to answer the question is never tracked. We are committed to getting in front of these types of projects and funding streams and help to gather the data needed to answer the questions they didn’t even know they needed to ask.
We applaud Groundworks for the data they did collect and share, and their work to give advocates the stories and data they need to continue to fight on behalf of children and families. And if you are anything like we are, looking at this report and asking “why” and “what’s next” and many other questions – give us a call or drop us an email, we can’t wait to dive in with you to answer them all!