Letter: Child care workers need to be valued and supported

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Editor of the Reformer,

As businesses gradually reopen in Vermont, they'll be following strict safety protocols that involve good hygiene, use of face coverings at all times, and social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Child care and early education programs have the governor's permission to reopen as of June 1, to support people returning to work. However, unlike almost any other industry besides health care, social distancing is impossible in early education. Young children need personal care such as feeding, diaper changing, and wiped noses. They need help washing hands, after putting their fingers in their mouths and noses. They need band-aids put on, and fight and need intervention. They need physical comfort often. In fact, most of what constitutes quality early education involves adult involvement in play and learning. Young children need physical touch and assistance all day.

Early educators are very poorly paid. While 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first five years, they are paid far less than kindergarten teachers. They have long accepted being some of the lowest paid workers in our economy, as well as a lack of respect for their knowledge and skills. Some can't afford any sort of medical insurance.

Now, with coronavirus, they are also being asked to accept high exposure to a potentially life threatening illness, due to the highly physical nature of their work. Some who have been working in special classrooms for essential workers have used all possible precautions and still contracted COVID-19.

This situation is a wake up call. We have a child care force that has been barely getting by for years despite their essential role. They can't be expected to put their lives, and their families' lives, on the line, with very little protection or reward. Some will undoubtedly decide the risk is too great, leaving an already understaffed vital industry vulnerable to collapse. Those who stay need to be compensated, and protected, in a way that recognizes the huge risks they are taking as well as their value to society. Our economy will not recover if there are not enough early childhood programs, and our children will suffer the loss. It's time to recognize their value and support their efforts.

I urge the legislators to address this crisis now. You can help by doing the same. Thank you.

Ellen Luna

Brattleboro, May 13

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