Nobody’s life is ever all balanced. It’s a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Retired television personality and talk show host
In the 1980’s I was offended that young women had to choose between a career and motherhood. It was not “normal” for a woman to be a working mother if it wasn’t an economic necessity. Careers for women were certainly not encouraged or supported by my family. I was accused, literally, of selfishly neglecting my children. Many in my generation started pushing back against this traditional thinking. We wanted a rewarding career as well as a close and loving family. We would have our successful career and no way in the world would we sacrifice our family’s well-being in the process
I worked in my family business and was fortunate to have the ability to bring my infant to work with me. It took a few months to see that my baby needed more attention and stimulation than I could provide while working. I started the search for day care and was quickly introduced to the Community Child Care Council (4Cs) who helped me to find safe and loving home-day care for my child.
That was 37 years ago and my children are now having children of their own. It is wonderful to see the change in priorities society has made, as now parents share child care responsibilities, have meaningful careers and work as a family to coordinate all aspects of child rearing. Two incomes have become more of a necessity than a luxury, especially in Sonoma County. Quality day care is now considered secondary to the primary care children receive at home. And early childhood education is now a priority in our communities.
A year ago, when my son and daughter-in-law began looking for infant care, I suggested they contact 4Cs. And, just like I did in 1984, they found a family day care that they fell in love with. So, I am a big believer in the mission of the Community Child Care Council and the need for quality day care and early childhood education to create a healthy community.
For our September General Membership Meeting, the Alliance took a deeper look into the lack of affordable child care which is one of the primary reasons workers cited for not returning to the workforce. Our experts on this topic were Melanie Dodson, Executive Director of the 4Cs since 2008, and Renee Whitock-Hemsouvanh, owner and cofounder of three school and early childhood education programs in Sonoma County. Melanie opened by telling us that the child care industry has been in crisis and has not been sustainable for years. This existed prior to the pandemic and the subsequent reduction of available employees, which only aggravated their problems. Since March 2020, 62% of Sonoma County daycare slots have been lost and 1,688 children are waiting for openings. Many facilities closed during the shelter in place and will not reopen. Those that have remained open are struggling. Renee detailed the costs and regulatory constraints that face providers. While daycare is unaffordable for many families, the income received by daycare providers barely covers wages, facilities and supplies. Most of the staff have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, receive just $20 per hour and must clean the bathrooms as part of their job. There is little room in the budget for facility upgrades or repairs.
Renee and her business partner, Jenny Kenyon, lost their Mark West Community Preschool to the Tubbs fire in 2017. After much time, work, and consulting, they determined that rebuilding at that location in this climate of high costs was not workable. They created a new plan and with the help of private industry, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, local government and community members at large, they opened Fulton Community School & Farm in Santa Rosa. Renee believes that through community collaboration anything is possible and their new school is proof of that!
How can we be part of that collaboration and prioritize daycare and early childhood education? Community solutions include support, training and resources for providers, partnering with 4Cs and the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber to explore options*, and advocating for sustainable Federal, State and Local investments. Each business can help by creating family friendly work policies such as work from home and flexible hours. We can provide flexible spending accounts to allow employees to direct benefit dollars toward child care. Larger employers might be able to provide facilities for on-site child care. And we must continue to prioritize funding for child care and early childhood education.
Thank you for your interest in the health and education of our future generations. And thank you again for being a member of the Sonoma County Alliance. In October we will be taking a deeper look into the Sonoma County Superior Court. Please plan to join us October 6th at 7 am. Have a great month.
What are you grateful for today?
Marlene Soiland, President
Sonoma County Alliance
Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.
Kristin Armstrong, Olympic Gold Medalist