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Not the babysitter; appreciating the role of child care providers

Published: May. 6, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - Those working in the child care field can often feel underappreciated for a variety of reasons, including what providers say is a lack of understanding from some parents and society at large about the work they do.

That is why Childcaring, the child care resource and referral non-profit organization coordinated a volunteer thank you card project for the second year in a row. The agency collects cards all year and sends them to each regulated child care provider in its 10-county service area. The national provider appreciation day started in 1996 as a way to recognize the work of, what some in the industry call the “workforce behind the workforce.”

Child care providers typically care for children ages 0-4 years old, and sometimes beyond to allow parents to go to work.

“I really want my house to feel like a home,” Heather Harriman, the owner and lead teacher of Footsteps Family Childcare said. “Some of these kids, whether parents want it that way or not, they spend more time here than they don’t spend here. So, it should feel like a home.”

Providers often work long hours to accommodate their parents’ work schedules -- allowing parents to be able to drop off and pick up their children before and after their workday. When the kids go home, their work continues as they sanitize surfaces, do the administrative work to run their businesses, and work on individualized development plans for each child. They are teachers and care providers in early childhood education.

“Children are not just playing, but being able to articulate how children learn through play and how our environments and the things that we do are very intentional,” Gayle Schiszik, Childcaring’s provider certifier and pre-licensing technical consultant explained. “We put two telephones in a dramatic play area, not because in the dramatic play area, it’s a home and there’s a phone in a home right? But we put two because we want children to learn communication and the give and take. So, when we put two phones there, children start to have conversations with each other.”

“Even when we eat... we talk about the colors of the cups and what’s on the cups and the shapes,” Ramona Mathews, the owner and lead teacher of Honey Tree Day Care, gave as an example.

“My philosophy is I’ve got to meet the child where they’re at,” Harriman said. “So, I’ve got some kids that can write and write their name and do all that stuff at 4-years-old and some kids that just can’t and so I have to find other activities that challenge them to help them thrive.”

“How much their brain develops and how much information that they’re taking in and learning before they even enter school has a huge impact on how well they do in school, how well they succeed in life,” Kelly Borchardt, the executive director of Childcaring added.

Borchardt explained there is a lot of education that regulated care providers must receive in order to be licensed and a lot of that education must continue each year. In short, she said, they are professionals, but they are not always seen that way.

“We’re viewed as the everyday babysitter,” Mathews said, caveating that since she has worked in the field for a long time, the vast majority of her parents respect her role.

“The babysitter, yeah,” Harriman agreed. “That’s probably the worst thing to say to a childcare provider is called my babysitter. That’s like an insult.”

They are going to work like the parents they serve, even if many of them do that work in their home, in many cases with their own children in their care as well. However, providers know parents can have a tough time affording the care their children need, so the providers end up working on thin margins to keep care costs as low as they reasonably can. Recently released research from UW-Madison shows that providers typically get paid about 20% less an hour than the typical Wisconsin worker who has only a high school degree. While a lot of providers stay in the field for the hugs and kisses they receive from kids, those sweet moments will not keep the lights on.

“Until we’re able to recognize how important childcare is in the early years as a community as a society, I think we’re going to continue to struggle,” Borchardt said in reference to the lack of affordable, quality child care options for families.

7 Investigates will be digging into that complex issue in a special series, Day Care Dilemma, starting Wednesday, May 11 on NewsChannel 7 at 9 and 10. Since the problem has many facets, the series will continue each Wednesday at the same time for several weeks.

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