The 2020 coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a virtual standstill. The spread of the virus was out of control and death counts were rising daily, The governor closed all public schools and ordered citizens to ‘stay home and stay safe’ unless engaged in essential services. Healthcare systems were overwhelmed and healthcare workers were rapidly running out of the protective equipment needed to assure their safety as they attended to the ever growing onslaught of critically ill patients. Essential service providers struggled with how to maintain operations while simultaneously protecting their employees and establishing social distancing guidelines for their patrons.
The healthcare industry was clearly on the forefront of the crisis. Public health officials issued daily updates regarding measures that could be taken to prevent infection and what to do in case of exposure. As the community responded to the crisis, enthusiastic support was openly displayed for those on the front lines and a spirit of willingness to adapt to the significant lifestyle changes dictated by the ‘stay home’ order. Daily messages of appreciation for healthcare workers, essential service providers and first responders were widely disseminated. Behind the scenes of these herculean efforts childcare professionals quietly kept showing up to care for the children of the essentials: doctors, nurses, firefighters, public health figures, grocers, pharmacists, ambulance drivers, postal workers, etc.
During a news briefing when it was initially recognized that COVID-19 had spread from Asia to the US but before the full magnitude of the problem had been widely recognized Washington’s governor remarked that licensed childcare providers were already familiar with and routinely performing the infection preventative actions being touted by public health professionals such as hand washing, stay home when sick, cover one’s cough or sneeze, etc. He then briefly mentioned the critical importance of ongoing availability of childcare.
As the crisis progressed there were daily news stories about those on the front lines of the fight against this untreatable, killer virus. Stories included such things as communities establishing medical tent cities to expand hospital capacities, medical professionals continuing to work despite the lack of sufficient protective gear for them or life saving equipment for critically ill patients, goods and services being safely provided to more vulnerable populations such as older Americans, and school district feeding programs being modified to assure that low income children continued to be fed despite children not physically being in school. Quietly, in the background, childcare workers continued to show up every day to provide a safe and secure place for the children of essential service providers.
According to the US Department of Education, in 2016 the mean annual wage for preschool teachers was $28,570, 55% of what a kindergarten teacher was paid. According to data from Zip Recruiter, a website matching employers and job seekers, the current average annual wage for a preschool teacher in Washington State in 2020 is $28,918. On a national level, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics places the 2020 figure at $29,780. Clearly a career in Early Childhood Education is a labor of love. In the midst of the greatest health threat in modern time, these dedicated professionals, earning less than $15 per hour, provided the foundation on which the rest of the country fought COVID-19. Without strong foundations structures cannot endure. Yet foundations often go unnoticed. They are not particularly glamorous-thus are frequently disguised and hidden from view. They tend to be taken for granted regardless of how spectacular the structure they are supporting. Despite the lack of recognition and appreciation foundations quietly continue to perform.
The foundation provided by the childcare industry, largely invisible and seemingly overlooked by many, has risen to the challenge in this dark time in which the world finds itself. While the direct consumers of childcare services, employed parents, regularly express their appreciation for these dedicated professionals, secondary recipients such as a patient in ICU or a critical care hospital unit, an individual involved in an automobile collision, someone riding on public transit, a motorist refilling their gas tank, someone reading a daily newspaper, or picking up a prescription at a local pharmacy likely do not give a second thought to the foundational support needed to keep all these essential services available.
In this dark time, think of the childcare industry and show appreciation in any way you can.