Foundation Insights

The Importance of Childcare

This is the third year that we have been living with the coronavirus. Indeed, with the myriad mitigation vaccines and protocols, most of us have made peace with its disruptive forces.

At the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, we have also gained powerful insights into the business of work — both ours and yours. Throughout the pandemic, for example, we have marveled at our technological infrastructure as it powers a transparent “open for business” presence to the public and our multiple stakeholders. And while today the doors of our physical offices have fully reopened, we have a newfound appreciation for the efficiency of technology in conducting Foundation business and outreach. Where exactly the Foundation lands in its deployment of the lessons learned on the technological front remains to be seen. For now, we are piloting a hybrid work arrangement that provides most staff with the flexibility of a two-day remote option within the work week. We also no longer presume that every meeting or event is “in person” and have become more strategic about setting the location — i.e., face-to-face or virtual — within the context of what best advances the individual activity’s goals and deliverables. Of course, what remains steadfast from our pre-Covid world is our commitment to providing superlative stewardship and service to our donors and other partners in philanthropy.

That said, perhaps our most insightful lesson from the past two years is the vital role that childcare plays in undergirding a thriving economy. On the one hand, this area is not new to the Foundation. For example, some fifteen years ago, the Foundation was instrumental in launching Smart Beginnings networks across Hampton Roads with a goal of ensuring that every child in the region had access to high-quality early care and education. Years later, in 2016, we stood up Minus 9 to 5 in partnership with the M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Deploying a collective impact framework, this program focuses on conception through the child’s fifth birthday. Its vision is to ensure that each of the region’s families is “equipped and supported to raise children who are healthy, thriving, and ready to learn.” These efforts, as well as such state-wide organizations as the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and Elevate Early Education (E3), have become informed advocates for the vital role that early education plays in providing equitable opportunities for a child’s future success in kindergarten and primary school.

And then, in 2020, came the coronavirus, which closed most schools and daycare facilities, often leaving parents to fend for themselves. The result forced mostly mothers to quit their jobs. It also left childcare workers, who were already in short supply with hourly-rate pay below the minimum wage in most cases, to be laid off. Of course, the eureka moment here is that childcare is a public as well as a social good and, as such, is a crucial piece of the infrastructure that advances the American economy. The pandemic uncovered this structural hole in our childcare system at multiple levels, forcing us to find a more strategic answer to the questions of cost for one — i.e., what should quality childcare cost — and, for another, who should pay for it. While there are no easy answers here, the questions are critical to a thriving economy. Public policymakers at all levels of government, private businesses, and consumers all have a stake in them. So, too, does philanthropy, which needs to rethink its historically short-term programmatic approach to the childcare crisis and find its role in helping to recognize the greater public good inherent in early care and education.

Stay tuned.

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