by Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist.11, Providence)

Every May at the Rhode Island State House, legislators, early care and education providers, parents, policymakers and members of the public come together to discuss challenges and advocate for resources to meet the needs of children and families.

This is an issue that I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and I believe we’ve made great strides in improving the quality of child care and early learning in Rhode Island. The Permanent Legislative Commission on Child Care was created in 1985 with the mission to advise the governor and legislature on the issues, problems, and solutions related to affordable, quality child care in Rhode Island, and to advocate for the availability of safe, quality, and affordable child care. 

To that end, we began our annual child care day almost 10 years ago to bring all the stakeholders together. This year, that event is a little different because of the realities of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the needs of the state’s children persist — and with the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to maintain the funding that has gone toward supporting these programs, while also figuring out ways to help pay for the new health and safety rules.

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The commission began as a solution to help Rhode Island’s families in making sure their children are being looked after safely and affordably.  With an economic future that is tenuous at best, many families are going to be faced with the problem of finding adequate child care for their children.  Many parents are working hard in frontline positions — in hospitals, post offices, nursing homes, sanitation services, manufacturing, delivery services and others. They need safe, affordable, high-quality child care for their children so they can keep society running, and our economy functioning.

Many parents are working from home, struggling to work while caring for their children. Others who are expected to go to their jobs have had to make tough decisions, or leave their children with elderly parents while child care is unavailable.

Most child care providers are currently at home, wishing they could be at their place of employment, fulfilling their calling of caring for children. But without additional support, child care programs cannot reopen. In order to restart the economy, we must come together with resources for these crucial workers, so they can care for our children. Only then, can our economy get back on track.

The early childhood education workforce is severely underpaid for their expertise. The average early educator earns $12.12 per hour — one of the lowest paid jobs in the U.S., even though many educators have college degrees. For years, I have advocated for quality child care and early learning. And the impact these educators have on our youngest citizens is one that will follow them throughout their lives. As the COVID-19 crisis bears down hard on our state — harder than any hurricane ever has — the decisions we make about our early learners will have ramifications for generations.

We need policies and programs that help families with young children. It’s necessary for proper childhood development. It’s necessary for a strong economy. It’s necessary for the public health.

If we invest now, we’ll help Rhode Islanders weather this storm. And we’ll come out stronger on the other side.

Representative Diaz is the chairwoman of the Permanent Legislative Commission on Child Care. She represents District 11 in the House of Representatives and resides in Providence.​

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