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Podcast: The Hell of (and Hope for) American Daycare

Last week, at aneventbased on the New Republic article,The Hell of American Daycare, author Jonathan Cohn and a panel of experts further explored the dismal state of American child care and started a conversation about potential strategies to improve our early education system more broadly. This week’sEducation Watch Podcastdelves further into the issue. Early Education Initiative director Lisa Guernsey hosted fellow panelists Jonathan Cohn and Brigid Schulte for a discussion of the importance of early learning as a component of child care.


During the New America Foundation’s Hell of American Daycare event last week, panelists painted a vivid picture of the dysfunction state of American child care and its impact on families. Each shared tragic anecdotes illustrating the quality and access challenges endemic to child care in the United States, as well as damning data that places the United States amidst the bottom of developed nations in terms of child care access.


Despite these shocking inadequacies, however, the panelists expressed some hope for the prospect of reform. Reid Cramer, director of the Asset Building Program at New America, emphasized, “When you have dual generation strategies [for reform], there are payoffs down the line – payoffs to the economy, not just the family and the child.” As several of the panelists stressed, child care belongs at the center of national economic debates, rather than marginalized as simply a women’s issue.  


After the event, Guernsey caught up with fellow panelists Jonathan Cohn and Brigid Schulte for this week’s Education Watch Podcast. After touching on their respective research concerning child care, Cohn explains that sharing these personal stories is “not just for narrative device. If you want to understand a policy issue, you actually have to talk to the people.”


Through his reporting on the tragic day care fire that killed four toddlers in Texas, Cohn illustrates the imperative for higher safety standards. Further, Schulte’s writing on the struggles of a young DC mother trying – and failing – to gain access to day care for her two young children underscores the insufficient availability of care.


Of course, safety and access are the bare minimum for child care expectations. To that end, Guernsey asks Cohn and Schulte about the prospects for raising the quality of early learning in U.S. child care. Cohn expressed optimism: “in some ways, it’s the least controversial part.” Schulte agreed that giving a child the best education in the best environment is something we can all agree upon and support.


Lending some credibility to the hope they expressed during the event, on Thursday of last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a new proposal to: 1) strengthen safety requirements for child care centers, as well as 2) update policies to streamline access. Moving forward, hopefully we will see efforts to increase safety and access align with the Administration’s focus on quality in early learning.