I have always worked in the nonprofit sector, but I found my calling 14 years ago when I began as the Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of Minnesota. Formerly the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network, Child Care Aware® of Minnesota serves as the backbone to 14 agencies that support child care providers, families, and children in Minnesota. We are a statewide system of agencies that have helped more than 600,000 families find quality child care and have supported the professional growth of more than 100,000 child care professionals.
The biggest change to the child care field that I’ve seen over the years is the heightened awareness of the importance of child care. When I began, there was barely any focus on child care and early education issues at the state level and funds were often cut.
Now we have grown to a place where child care and early education has become a core focus. Recently Minnesota’s governor, House, and Senate had sessions to specifically discuss funding early education because they ran out of time during the general session. The disagreements during the session was not about if it was important to invest in child care and early education but how to best fund child care and early education. Never in our lives have we seen this issue become so important that a special session had to be called. People may disagree about what the most effective approach is for funding child care, but its importance is no longer up for debate.
As a state, we are still trying to figure out how to fit child care into the bigger pre-Kindergarten discussion. Child Care Aware® of Minnesota is working with Child Care Aware® of America to get our leaders to understand that child care is synonymous with pre-kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten is for any child under the age of five. The other big nut we are working to crack is fair compensation for teachers and child care providers.
We have come a long way in building constructs and measures within the child care system. We know what makes a quality program. The issues now are about accessibility and affordability because the vast majority of children who need quality child care can’t afford to have it. We know child care is a great investment. According to researchers, quality child care has an 8:1 return on investment. We know that quality child care is good for the economy. Parents need good child care programs for their children so they can focus on their jobs instead of worrying about the safety of their children when they are at work.
Ann McCully is the Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of Minnesota.