Via: Dallas Morning News
In a study published in 2017 by the Dallas Women’s Foundation, child care is featured as one of the four building blocks of women’s financial security, and is seen as critical to women’s economic success.
This study is not only central to my life’s work as a child development professor, but also a tug-at-my-heartstrings cause, as I have witnessed firsthand the impact that both the unavailability and the high cost of quality care has on my female students, as well as on my own daughters.
Even after low-income mothers have achieved their educational goals, paying for child care is often a struggle. For example, on a $50,000 annual public school teacher’s salary, a single mother will easily pay around $1,000 per month for toddler child care with the average cost between $7,000 and $9,000 per year, according to the 2016 Texas Workforce Commission Child Care Market Rate Survey. After taxes, college loans, medical, and retirement dollars are deducted, that single mother will often have a take-home pay of around $2,800 per month. Reduce that by a thousand dollars for child care, and she must rely upon subsidies from other family members or even a second job to support her family.
However, there is hope as models of quality care are available to us in state and federally funded programs that have a track record of success. After earning a Ph.D. in Early Child Development in 1993, I returned to Texas public schools to teach in a district that offered full day, year-round child care (including after school) Pre-K programs for the under-served.
Another example is U.S. military bases, which since 1989 have offered high-quality child care to service members’ families on site. My research and writing in this area allowed me the opportunity to travel globally to observe first-hand the high-quality child care given to all families and employees of the military. From South Korea to Abilene, Texas, I saw nationally accredited child care centers and after school programs focused upon the family, while putting the needs of our military men and women first by committing to care for the youngest and bravest of them all – the children of our service members.
Finally, my work in university and college campus child care has provided hope that once a systematic, uniform, goal oriented, child and family-centered focus is adopted by our society, our patchwork system of care will begin to disappear. The term child care will replace “day care” and child care providers will consider caring for and teaching our children a career that shows pride, promise and reward, in the same manner as career fields such as nursing and counseling.

We as a nation have found ourselves addressing our child care issues in fits and spurts. Historically, our government has addressed child care in the U.S. inconsistently and usually only when crises occur. For example, in the early part of the 20th century, women went to work during the Great Depression and then again during World War II to supplement the family income as well as to fill jobs vacated by men. During these times of national crises, the Federal Government stepped in to help provide child care so women could work. Continuing these practices today could help advance the progress of women and society at large.
In 1996, Abby Cohen of the Child Care Law Center in San Francisco described aid for “other-than-mother care” as a disorganized collection of funding streams and writes of the need for a systematic approach to provide a federal funding system for child care. As early as 1930, the White House Conference on Children declared that no one should get the idea that Uncle Sam is going to rock the baby to sleep, referring to the pervading idea that government should only get involved when totally necessary.
My reply to Uncle Sam on behalf of my students and daughters today would be, “We don’t need you to rock our babies…we just need you to help us buy our own rocking chair.”
Professor Karen Petty, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Family Sciences at Texas Woman’s University. Her research areas focus on child and family resilience, working with children of military families and child care workers and professional development.