Abbey Clark-Moschella is a current student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she is studying English and anthropology. This summer, she is volunteering at All Our Kin, helping us with a variety of projects, including our Early Head Start program.
In my short time as a volunteer at All Our Kin, two things have been made clear: child care is one of the most critical components in the development of healthy and successful children, and child care professionals are incredibly undervalued. Although the productive and healthy future of society is dependent upon the care we give our children, we are failing to give our child care providers respect and access to the professional development that is necessary to attain this future.
Extensive research demonstrates that quality care is one of the most important gifts that an adult can give a young child. In order to support and guide their development, children must be given care that is not only safe but also enriching and educational. Caregivers must not only be able to feed and clothe a child, but must be knowledgeable professionals, trained and skilled in child development and passionate about their work.
In my own six years of experience as a babysitter, I have seen firsthand the value of quality care for both children and families. Through the years I’ve built connections with various children, watched them grow and develop from one life stage to another, and seen how I can impact their lives and the lives of their parents. For example, the parents of the 3-year-old girl that I babysit can go to work without worrying about her safety. Because I also work with her on her English, her parents can continue to speak their native language at home. I have seen the value of quality child care in the sigh of the mother who can take a break to study because I am watching her infant, and in the lists and directions left by anxious parents leaving their child for the first time. I have seen it in the little girl confidently stringing together a sentence in English, and in the kisses she blows me when I leave. However, in witnessing the importance of this work, I have also realized its depth and difficulty. Each day of babysitting presents its own challenges, whether they come from potty-training or teaching English. As my knowledge and experience grows, so does my recognition of how much goes into caring for young children and how much more there is to learn.
Unfortunately, child care is often viewed as “unskilled” labor, traditionally conducted by women inside the home, and therefore is not given much standing. In practice, this translates into limited opportunities for caregivers to develop as professionals. Like many babysitters, I have learned most of what I do from experience: because so many see caregiving as simple work, there was never any formal training available to me besides basic first aid. Professional caregivers, including home-based providers, also often lack access to the training that they need.
What we as a society have failed to grasp is that children cannot develop and learn if their caregivers do not have the respect and support of society. Much of the research that I have done so far at All Our Kin has been in the area of child care as an economic sector. On many economic and wage reports, child care is not even listed as an occupation or is included under “other”. This devaluation is particularly evident in the field of family child care, which despite having proven benefits for children and families is often overlooked culturally and politically. This is not an individual-level problem, for as much as caregivers are underpaid, many families struggle to afford even basic care for their children. Instead, it is a societal disconnect between our values and our goals. If we want our children to be successful, we must recognize child care as a legitimate profession and an area of expertise, thus allowing caregivers, including those operating family child care programs, to be paid adequately for their work and to access the resources they need to develop as professionals.
I can feel my place in this momentous, complicated system of work and care, parents and children, present and future. I see the importance in these dynamics, and I know other caregivers do as well. However, we cannot be alone: the rest of society has to acknowledge the immense power and responsibility that is in the hands of each and every caregiver. We can no longer afford to ignore our children’s needs and the needs of their families by overlooking those who care for them.