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Perspective | A day without child care: A glimpse into North Carolina’s future

On May 16, we will be closing our child care centers for a day — signaling a crisis that could soon sweep across North Carolina, dismantling the very backbone of our economy: child care. This one-day action, organized by a coalition of partners under Child Care for NC: United for Change, is not merely a protest; it’s a stark preview of the devastating impact awaiting us as federal pandemic-era funding ends.

Without decisive action, North Carolina risks losing over 1,500 child care programs, affecting nearly 92,000 children and their families. This isn’t just about numbers; it’s about our state’s future and the lives of the working families who depend on these essential services.

We are not newcomers to this field. With over half a century of combined experience in child care, we’ve dedicated our lives to the education and well-being of children. From operating small family child care home centers to managing large facilities, our careers have been built on the belief that every child deserves a nurturing, stimulating environment to grow. Chronic underfunding threatens the very foundation of this belief. 

From Charlotte, a provider bringing her staff to the legislature

I was thrust into the world of child care out of necessity when I lost my child care voucher as a single mother. This personal crisis not only led me into the field but has fueled my commitment ever since.

At Pathway Preschool Center, we’ve used the latest round of federal funds to improve teacher salaries and enhance our facilities significantly. These changes aren’t just numbers on a page — they mean that parents can go to work knowing their children are in safe, stimulating environments.

This May 16th, we are not only closing our center; we are taking our cause to Raleigh, where we will join hands with many to demand sustained support. Without the necessary funding or resources, I will have to continue raising fees for families and reducing our hours to manage costs; something we just cannot afford to do.

I am stepping out because I know my center is not alone in this battle. On May 16th, I’m bringing a busload of staff from my center and the families we serve to share our personal stories, handwrite letters to legislators, and speak out about what these cuts mean for not only our community and state but the rest of the country.

My question to legislators is this: “Who stands to lose care if you don’t act now?” We will not fail the marginalized Black and brown children who will be the most impacted by your inaction, and until you recognize the value of what early childhood educators do each and every day, we will not rest. 

From Durham, a provider completely drained

Like Emma, I started my career in child care to make a safe space for my daughter and give her the quality experience I envisioned for her. I did not know at the time that there were so many aspects of the profession that were detrimental to child care providers and that I would face many costly lessons over the years.

Even though I still love what I do and hold early childhood education close to me, I am completely drained mentally, physically, and emotionally.

As the director of Landeeingdam Daycare Inc., I see every day how crucial adequate funding is to maintain quality care. Thanks to the recent grants, the additional assistance I could afford was a game-changer for our children’s daily educational experiences. Without continued funding, not only might I lose this help, but we may also be forced to cut services or close down, decisions that would reverberate throughout our community. On May 16th, I will stand with Emma and other child care providers at Halifax Mall to share my story and those of the families we serve.

Financial instability is a standard to many in our field, forcing numerous providers and child care workers to take on second jobs just to make ends meet. Despite our designation as ‘essential’ during the pandemic, this status was short-lived, and the support that once seemed like a breakthrough is now a failed promise.

The recent stabilization grants briefly expanded our capabilities and allowed for critical hires that profoundly impacted our children’s daily experiences. Yet, as this funding expires, the risk of reducing services or even closing our centers remains heavy, a decision that would devastate our communities.

It’s not just about keeping the doors open; it’s about maintaining a quality of care that includes providing our staff with necessary benefits like paid time off, health insurance, and other essentials that help retain them, ensure their well-being, and ensure a safe and pleasant environment for our children. 

The child care crisis demands more than temporary solutions; it requires a fundamental reevaluation of how our society supports those tasked with caring for its youth. 

Not just a disruption

Our firsthand experiences underscore the critical role of child care as more than just a service — it is an economic driver and a pillar of stability within our communities. The end of federal funding threatens an essential service that is already difficult for many families to obtain. For many centers, particularly those serving low-income families, the end of these funds will mean drastic cuts in services or straight-up closures. We’ve already begun to see the strain on our centers in Charlotte and Durham, where operational adjustments — from reducing hours to increasing fees — are Band-Aid solutions to a bleeding financial wound.

The potential closure of child care centers carries broader implications beyond the immediate disruption to family routines. The economic impact is significant, hampering North Carolina’s recovery and growth when many are still dealing with the pandemic’s lingering effects. The end of stabilization grants threatens the livelihood of thousands of care workers, with nearly three in ten programs facing closure. This is not just a disruption; it is a devastation to the community and economic threads that hold our state together.

Every cut in child care funding is a cut to a child’s future, a family’s stability, and our state’s economic vitality. Behind the numbers are stories of real people making painful choices: educators like us who love our work but face financial instability and parents who may no longer have access to affordable care. These are not just policy failures; they are personal crises affecting thousands.

It is time for North Carolina’s legislators to step forward and recognize child care for what it is: an essential infrastructure critical to economic stability and deserving of sustained investment. We need a reinvestment in our state’s future through robust support of child care. This means not only preserving but increasing state funding to ensure that child care centers across North Carolina can continue to serve their communities without sacrificing quality or accessibility.

To our fellow North Carolinians, we ask you to join us, whether in person on the steps of the General Assembly, in spirit, or by contacting your representatives. Support us in demanding that our legislators act now to preserve and enhance this vital sector. Our actions today will define the future of our state and the legacy we leave for our children.

We are closing our centers on May 16 to stand up for this cause, but more importantly, to ignite a movement that echoes through every legislative hall and into every corner of our state. This is not just about child care. It’s about the kind of North Carolina we want to live in. We refuse to step back into a past where child care is undervalued and underfunded. Instead, we demand a future where our children and families flourish.

Emma Biggs

Emma Biggs is a National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) member and the director of Pathway Preschool Center in Charlotte.

Dee Dee Fields

Dee Dee Fields is a National Domestic Workers Alliance member and director of Landeeingdam Daycare Inc. in Durham.