Oct. 1 ushered in new health benefit plan choices for Americans. Over the next six months, many individuals, families and small business owners will evaluate and choose a health care plan through the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace. Despite the contention and alleged confusion that has arisen, I am excited to see access to quality health care coverage expand in Wisconsin. But not for the reasons you might think.
As executive director of Wisconsin’s largest association of childcare providers, I see a direct connection between health care quality and child care quality. For many years, I have been deeply concerned about the rate at which childcare providers are uninsured or underinsured. Lack of health care access presents risks not only to providers, but to the children they care for and educate. With over 72 percent of families relying on childcare, these risks are too pervasive and should alarm all of us.
“We cannot expect children to thrive physically, emotionally and cognitively when their caregivers struggle with poor health. The science is clear that without strong socio-emotional relationships to act as a buffering, protective intervention against adversity, children can suffer long-term damage to their health and ability to learn,” says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and member of our board of directors.
The numbers are significant. Today, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin businesses employ working parents. Before arriving at work, parents across Wisconsin will entrust the care and education of over 215,000 young children to a childcare provider. For the next 10 hours and often more, 30,000 childcare providers will nurture, teach, lift, feed, comfort, lead, and protect infants, toddlers and preschoolers getting ready to enter kindergarten. The work is demanding with responsibility for so many young lives.
Yet, as a workforce, childcare providers across Wisconsin often work without health care benefits. And why is that? A 2010 childcare workforce study that our association conducted revealed that 98 percent of family childcare providers and 66 percent of group childcare programs do not provide employer-sponsored health insurance plans.
Additionally, childcare providers in Wisconsin earn salaries that hover close to the federal poverty guideline. More specifically, providers earn $11.30 per hour on average, or $23,504 annually. The 2013 federal poverty guideline is $23,550 for a family of four.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the turnover rate for the childcare workforce is 25 percent — double the median turnover rate in other job sectors.
A seasoned, accredited and well-respected childcare program director put it to me more bluntly: “I lost one of my best teachers. She loved the work and is so good at it, but she took a custodian job. It paid $5 more an hour and had health benefits.”
Wisconsin cannot continue to risk the future success of our children on a childcare system where providers earn poor wages and work without health care benefits. We welcome the new health benefit plans. We believe that this change alone can contribute to stemming the turnover rate in childcare. A lower turnover rate will mean that more of today’s caregivers will stay in this field.
Our children’s healthy development benefits from this. The opportunity is long awaited and vitally necessary for Wisconsin’s childcare workforce and for the thousands of young children who are influenced by what these early teachers do and offer each and every day.
Ruth Schmidt is executive director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association. She can be reached at (608) 729-1042 or ruschmidt@