‘Resilient and resourceful’: UC Berkeley community reflects on child care, student-parents

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As child care services slowly make a return, members of the UC Berkeley community reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the shortage of child care services and how it affected student-parents.

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UC Berkeley community members reflected on the state of child care and its impacts on student-parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the UC Berkeley Early Childhood Education Program, or ECEP, was forced to make adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.

While several ECEP centers are now open, some still experienced brief periods of closure last year with one remaining closed. Ratliff said changes to ECEP operations in the previous academic year did not impact the ratio of teachers to children.

“Looking forward, ECEP is working to expand its operations to better meet the needs of families,” Ratliff said in an email. “For example, ECEP has been working to hire more teaching staff.”

Elena Montoya, senior research and policy associate for the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley, said that in the face of the pandemic, the national child care workforce is still 90% of what it previously was, an effect that has likely impacted child care services available in Berkeley.

After “a difficult year and a half,” child care centers and other programs can no longer serve as many children as before due to changes in regulation and the pandemic which has forced them to financially adjust, Montoya said.

She added although the child care shortage existed before the pandemic, which was mostly due to low wages, this shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic. To help solve this problem, Montoya noted the need for public funding and reform to guarantee fair compensation for child care workers.

“Even though child care teachers are dedicated and passionate about their work, you can’t expect them to stay in jobs with low benefits and wages,” Montoya said. “Pre-pandemic or now, we can’t get quality child care work if we can’t pay workers what they deserve.”

Additionally, Montoya said educators are also stressed and concerned for their own health as they would be working in close proximity with children who are currently too young to be vaccinated.

Tomie Lenear, program coordinator for the campus Student Parent Center, explained that the changes made to campus child care programs were fairly received by student-parents.

When the pandemic began, he noted that many student-parents were concerned about how a lack of child care would interfere with professors’ expectations.

Campus psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw noted that during the pandemic, an increase in parenting stress alongside the halt of in-person child care also led to a rise of domestic violence rates, depression and anxiety in young and older adults, which could include many student-parents.

“We might also come to realize that excellent childcare is not a luxury but a necessity for families, for optimal child development, and for the future well being (both psychological and economic) of our society,” Hinshaw said in an email.

As guidelines for reopening emerged, Lenear said student-parents remained anxious over the availability of certain services and the subsidization of those services. 

According to Lenear, student-parents are also concerned that campus will not be mindful of how the COVID-19 vaccine is not available to all children. He also noted the need for a flexible and understanding mode of academia.

“Student parents are resilient and resourceful,” Lenear said. “They can find resources for what campus can’t provide. This isn’t the way that it should go, but student parents are doing their best.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.