Isabelle Cajka takes an evening walk with her son Hector through their gardens to unwind for the evening. Isabelle is the mother of an 8-month-old baby who is involved in the childcare campaign, which aims to raise awareness and take action against the lack of affordable (or even unaffordable) childcare. She was previously a children’s librarian. (Photo by Alexis Wary/PublicSource)
Mothers, teachers – and at least one librarian (me) – unite to fix the affordable childcare system. It started with a Reddit post.
First-person essay by Isabelle Cajka, PublicSource
I’m standing in the corridors of the US Senate in a dusty, hushed committee room with billboards, strollers, frozen breast milk flask bags, and activists ages 11 months to 40 years old with the Campaign for Childcare. We came to Washington DC at the end of May with petitions signed by more than 3,000 people across the country wanting universal child care. I’m giving myself and my friends a belated Mother’s Day gift: organizing for a better world.
We are a dedicated group of mostly mothers and childcare workers (or both) who are fed up with prohibitive childcare costs, lack of access to quality care and the hungry childcare workers who are paid to do their critical work.
We met on a Reddit thread (r/workingmoms) in December 2022, when a mom of baby twins and a toddler posted that she felt sick looking at her take-home pay versus her childcare costs, and asked if she was crazy was because she was seriously thinking about organizing for universal childcare in the United States. I read the post in the middle of the night, daunted by the cost of my own family’s daycare while feeding our hungry (very cute, painfully sweet) 2-month-old baby, and replied to ask if anyone in Pennsylvania wanted start talking.
Universal child care, while not the standard in most of the United States, is not as rare an idea as it may seem. While most people who think universal childcare think Scandinavian countries, New Mexico is closer to home. The state is leading the country in childcare reform with a constitutional amendment that guarantees early childhood education and allocates $150 million a year of state funds to early childhood programs, with the goal of keeping centers open and making childcare affordable.
Canada, just one tank of gas away from Pittsburgh, recently launched a plan to send children to daycare at an average cost of $10 a day. The national plan explains exactly how many jobs it creates (thousands) while creating (tens of thousands) childcare places, and it also outlines how many jobs it fills (thousands) as parents can return to work after they have children. How Much Does This Plan Save Canadian Families? If you guessed “thousands”, you’re right. Canada’s GDP is expected to grow by 1.2% over the next 20 years thanks to this plan.
The United States ranks 40th out of 41 ranked countries, according to the UNICEF report ‘Where Do Rich Countries Stand in Child Care’.
Get on the childcare waiting list
In my own work with children and families as a librarian in Pittsburgh, some of my least favorite moments were when clients would come to the reference desk asking for help finding care, often stunned by the lack of affordable, accessible options for their children. There’s nothing like seeing someone realize in real time that the best time to put their child on a waiting list was before the child was conceived — and then watching them realize they probably can’t afford full-time childcare anyway.
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