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Is there a crisis in child care?

Health-care access, educational inequities, and racial disparities are issues that are not new to the United States, but COVID-19 has certainly brought new attention to these issues and others and forced the nonprofit community to speak out and advocate for systemic change.

The holes in the dike are opening daily and governments and communities are running out of fingers to plug them.

We clearly need to do better.

Early learning and child-care providers serve families across all socio-economic classes and provide the valuable care needed so parents can go to work and so children have the proper start they need in life.

Yet despite the important role many believe they have, many child-care providers are struggling to stay afloat.

Under Pennsylvania’s social distancing measures, most child-care providers were required to close in the early days and weeks of the pandemic, and while things have opened up somewhat, many providers have been forced to implement new protocols. Work schedules for the parents have also changed and caused disruption for families as well as providers.

This has put many high-quality programs at risk of closing permanently.

But the challenges in the child-care sector are not new.

Lack of funding, substandard wages, insufficient legal guidance and professional services and a lack of real communication with public officials have plagued the industry for decades.

For an industry that cares for and educates our youngest and, in fact, most vulnerable children during years of critical brain development, we’ve got to address these issues now.

Due to chronic underfunding, child-care providers operate on slim financial margins. Unexpected expenses for facility repairs or a reduction in revenue can be devastating.

There is also a risk that talented professionals will be forced to look for more flexible and better paying jobs.

As president of the Lycoming County United Way, we support the Pre-K for PA (www.prekforpa.org) and Start Strong PA (www.startstrongpa.org) advocacy efforts to ensure high-quality early childhood education for all children in Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

We need to fight for a strong pre-K educational experience for all children; regardless of ability to pay. Thedirect link between high-quality childcare and education and the economic advantages that come to communities who invest in developing greater access to these opportunities has been clearly documented.

These strong communities are also communities that are recognized for their high quality employees later in life that lead to an overall higher quality of life.

The investment in early childhood education is an investment in Pennsylvania communities and we encourage elected leaders in our Commonwealth to increase the investment in this important economic driver.

Early learning success for Pennsylvania’s children ensures a strong future for Pennsylvania.

Ronald Frick is president and CEO of the Lycoming County United Way.

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