May 11, 2023
Co-Founder, Journey Discovery Center
Erica Van Horn
Childcare Director, Custer YMCA
Director, Policy & Programs, Early Childhood Education, USCCF Center for Education and Workforce
Childcare and early childhood education are essential to America’s workforce infrastructure. Access to quality childcare and education makes it possible for parents to remain in the workforce, while also preparing the future workforce for success.
However, the childcare sector continues to face staffing and economic challenges — which, left unaddressed, can have broader negative implications for our nation’s families, communities, and businesses.
In this edition of The Drumbeat, Aaron Merchen, Senior Director of Policy and Programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, spoke with two leaders in the childcare industry. Nicole Sohn, Co-Founder of Journey Discovery Center, and Erica Van Horn, Childcare Director at Custer YMCA, discussed the issues childcare providers are facing today — and how the business community can help.
Despite Broad Community Support, Childcare Programs Are Struggling to Stay Open
According to Sohn and Van Horn, their respective communities are aware of the importance of early childhood centers, as well as the logistical challenges of keeping them open. This broad community support, however, is yet to translate into direct long-term solutions.
“I think we’re at a point where people know about it, but they don’t know what to do about it. … It is such a big, systemic issue [and] we’re really trying to focus on what … we can do [in Spokane],” explained Sohn. “The biggest struggle is … a pipeline of talent coming to us. There are a lot of providers in Spokane that have empty classrooms because they can’t find [a] qualified workforce.”
Van Horn agreed, noting the community in Custer, South Dakota, has had some “great community meetings” — though these are still in the early stages.
“The biggest thing that has happened in the community is that people understand [that] we need help … [and] they understand the big problem,” said Van Horn. “We obviously need to get some more support, but the nice thing about it is the word is getting out … we just need some action now.”
The Business Community Can Help Drive Childcare Solutions
The challenges facing childcare centers don’t just affect families; they affect the business community as a whole. Sohn noted that both her state and city chambers of commerce have been “really engaged” on the issue, which has made the general public “pay attention.”
“[The Association of Washington Business is] currently planning a bus tour, where we hit all 10 Congressional delegations, and we bring the members of Congress, members of our state legislature, [and] business communities,” Sohn shared. “We actually get those lawmakers out into the community, meet childcare providers, convene businesses, convene advocates, and have really deep-dive conversations unique to that community.”
In the small town of Custer, Van Horn has expressed her desire to get businesses and the broader community on board with supporting childcare providers.
“Our businesses, I would love to see them come alongside us — even if all they can do is advocate for us that we are an essential business and not just babysitting, and that it isn’t just a parent problem, it’s a community problem,” Van Horn emphasized.
A Childcare-Centered Community Is ‘Powerful’ and ‘Efficient’ in Supporting Its Families
Sohn closed by emphasizing the importance of childcare as a community center.
“Children need to be with other children, and they need to have mentors and multiple adults that they learn different things from,” she said. “That is the power of childcare — and if we center that at the heart of our communities, it is incredibly powerful and efficient.”
According to Sohn, early childhood centers do more for working parents than provide childcare; they can also serve as a “community focal point” for resources such as food benefits and housing access.
“I am just proud to be able to serve that role, ...and excited to see where that’s going to build the future," Sohn said.