Things That Matter

Childcare Providers Are Fighting For Their Livelihoods And A Seat At The Table

In honor of Labor Day, mitú is running a short series highlighting childcare providers in California and those affected by struggles with childcare. One in three providers in California are Latina. They and others are fighting for a fairer wage, collective bargaining within the government and many other issues.

Ramona Duran’s house in Long Beach is pretty typical from the outside. But if you walk beyond the peach stucco façade and small garden in the front yard, there’s a flurry of activity. On any given weekday, 14 children, some as young as infant age to five-year-olds, can be found playing, crying and laughing at almost all hours of the day. While that may sound like a nightmare to some, Duran is elated to be the calm among the storm of little voices at Ramona’s Day Care.

Duran has been running her day care the last 21 years. The space is a child’s paradise. Shelves built by her husband hold dress-up clothes, musical instruments, educational games and dolls of children of different ethnicities and abilities that she uses to teach kids about diversity. The walls are covered with photos of happy families and kids, and a little play kitchen holds a basket of plastic pan dulce.

CREDIT: Ramona Duran. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

She proudly walks through her daycare, pointing out a wall of colorfully-drawn butterflies and blue dogs cut out of construction paper. This is B week, and through those drawings Duran teaches the children math, colors, Spanish and English while also strengthening their fine motor skills and showing them how to socialize with other children. It’s the proverbial spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

This is what she and the thousands of other providers do — care for children and teach them the many lessons they need early in their lives in order to succeed later in their education and eventual careers.

More than half of licensed providers are women of color. One out of every three are Latina in California. Duran is one of them. She does this work out of genuine love of children. The joys of caring for children are impossible to calculate. However, what can be calculated are the considerably low earnings and lack of benefits providers receive.

The childcare system is frustratingly confusing and tedious. While some parents pay out of pocket for child care, making it a somewhat simple transaction (you watched my child, here is the money I owe you), many others rely on subsidized childcare from the state government, with the government providing funding to local non-profits who then pay the providers directly.

That’s where things get very complicated.

CREDIT: Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

The programs that provide subsidized childcare and the non-profits who carry out the programs each have their own system, set of rules and paperwork required on a regular basis so the parent can remain enrolled and the provider can get paid. It’s through various agencies that parents and providers interact with.

Providers are considered independent contractors, similar to someone who works freelance. They are paid a different set amount per child depending on a variety of factors that include age, the program they’re in, regional market rates and the number of hours the child is in the provider’s care.

Providers have a mix of children, caring for 14 max at a time. For every child in a subsidy program, they have to provide documentation of care to the respective program the child is in. However, if at no fault of the provider documents are lost, there’s a mistake or the parent’s paperwork hasn’t been submitted, the provider isn’t paid until all documents are in. If a parent’s circumstances change, such as their new income makes them ineligible for subsidized care and no one notifies the provider, the provider is not paid for her work. Sometimes it can take months before a provider is notified that she will not be paid because the family was disqualified. Providers have to go through all this for each child in their care. It’s not fun, at best.

Even with all that paperwork and bureaucracy, the end result is minuscule pay for providers.

Let’s say a provider has a kid under two in their care. The hourly rate they can get if the child is with them less than 5.59 hours a day but less than 30 hours a week, is about $10 a day. But if they’re there more than 30 hours a week, that $10 turns into a part-time rate of about $7. If the child is there longer than 30 hours, then it’s full time. Now it drops to about $5 an hour. The longer the child is in their care, the less they make. The rates decrease the older the child is.

This is not a hypothetical example. It’s the reality for Tonia McMillan, 58, a childcare provider and advocate in Bellflower, California. While providers don’t make an hourly wage, on average, a childcare provider makes $5-$8 an hour. But they’re not even guaranteed that amount.

McMillan has been a provider for 24 years. While she loves working with children, red tape and poor pay weigh on her. That’s why she, Duran and others have joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – to fight for fairer wages, collective bargaining and better benefits for childcare providers.

CREDIT: Tonia McMillan with baby Amari. Photo credit: Rebecca Garcia/SEIU

McMillan and the others are fighting for $15 an hour as the base for school age children. They also want collective bargaining because it ensures they have a seat at the table with law makers who make decisions that impact providers’ livelihood and that of the parents and the children in their care.

Herminia Garcia, 60, is a childcare provider in Carson, California, who is also a union member. Originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, Garcia has been a provider for 17 years. For an infant she cares for, she makes $31 a day, even if it’s longer than eight hours. For an 18-month-old, she’s paid $27 a day. She has an assistant she pays $10 an hour. In the end, she ends up making about $2 an hour.

Half of America’s childcare workers need food stamps, welfare payments or Medicaid, according to a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Many qualify for other government programs, like food programs, that help offset costs. But because they’re independent contractors, that have to pay everything they spend on their business out of pocket. That includes food for the kids, water, toilet paper, school supplies, baby wipes, hand soap, toys, books, and the many other things needed to care for kids. On food alone, McMillan estimates her costs at $500 a week.

Providers are also required by law to have insurance and, if they have more than eight kids in their care and depending on the kids’ ages, must have an assistant. Those assistants are hourly employees and are required to be paid the minimum wage. The state, however, is not required to pay providers the minimum wage.

At one point, McMillan made $78,000 in a year. However, with all the costs associated with the work, including assistants, what she actually made was $16,000. She can never get sick because there are no sick days, vacations are almost impossible to take and the financial struggle is often great.

So why do this work? Every provider will say that it’s the love they have for children, who they form close, sometimes lifelong bonds with, and because they provide help to parents. They also believe it is work that is necessary. Their daycares are within the communities they live in, and they serve the children and parents within that community. Their work helps lift often poor, communities of color.

“Meeting the providers, I realized this is golden,” says McMillan. “We do work that we should be super proud of.”

And when parents aren’t able to pay for their child’s care, or when they’re stuck in paperwork purgatory with their subsidy program, providers don’t turn them away.

“There’s people that in reality depend a lot on their job, and it’s really important that they have someone to take care of their children and that they know they can leave them in a place they trust,” says Duran. “Most of all, they have to bring the bread home too. That’s why I help them. I understand.”

The problem becomes that the work isn’t respected. At least that’s how it appears considering how often hard-fought bills that offer them better pay or collective bargaining are vetoed without a second thought. For McMillan, the reason is crystal clear.

It’s the country we live in. It’s our history. As women, we’re considered the nurturers,” says McMillan. “As black women and brown women, we’re natural nannies. We’ve always been the ones to take care of the little white babies. That’s our history. That’s the racial stereotype that’s ingrained in this country and our institutions. I don’t care what the deniers say. I live this every day.”

Because of this long-instituted belief, these women’s work is devalued.

On a cool Friday night, 25 women gathered at Duran’s home to meet with their union rep, Maria Duque, a 26-year-old who was there to answer questions, provide information and help them navigate the complicated subsidized system they so rely on. The providers spoke amongst each other, and sometimes over each other, as they discussed the many issues they are dealing with in getting paid and in getting by. Garcia is there in an arm sling, the result of an injury on the job. Together, they commiserate, talk and empower each other to fight for their livelihood and future.

READ: Interrogation Of Undocumented Minors And ‘Baby Prisons’ To Become A Reality Thanks To Texas Bill

Follow this story and the next in the Childcare Providers series. But first, share this first installment with your friends!

Confessions of a Buena Madre: ‘I Should Have Listened When My Son Kept Telling Me His Stomach Hurt’


Confessions of a Buena Madre: ‘I Should Have Listened When My Son Kept Telling Me His Stomach Hurt’

“Mamá my stomach hurts.”

Growing up I had a lot of unexplained stomachaches and headaches.

“Maybe you just have to go to the bathroom,” my mom would reply to me every time. I was a scrappy, smart, sensitive child, and I could tell that there was something about the way she said it that felt as if she was repeating someone else’s words. As if, someone had said the same thing to her when she was growing up, maybe her dad, or her grandma Lupe. Maybe it was the far-off tone, the way she avoided eye-contact, or maybe it was the the tinge of worry in her voice. It was the way she always sounded when she thought there might be something wrong with me that she could do nothing about.

Still, she did take me to see a doctor at one point who told me that there was nothing wrong. That “it could just be stress.”

Back in those days, in a small town, and growing up on welfare, there was little my mother, or I could do about stress. Kids were not going to stop bullying me at school for being Mexican, “shabby,” or poor. And they would not stop saying things about the color of my skin. Adults were not going to stop asking me “what are you?” We were not suddenly going to have more money or not be living below the poverty level. My mom wasn’t going to stop being sad about how her mom had left their family when she was five, or about having to leave the rest of her family in Los Angeles to escape my dad who beat her and kidnapped me.

Just stress.

We went home from the doctor’s appointment without any practical advice about what to do about the stress.

images need credit here.

The doctor had given it a name, and now I was expected to move on.

I continued having stomachaches and headaches, what we now know can be somatic symptoms of stress or anxiety, but back then because the doctor had said there was nothing wrong with me, my mom thought I might just be a hypochondriac.

But according to a Harvard Health Publishing article from 2010, the relationship between stress or anxiety and stomach pains is easily explained:

“The brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the “fight or flight” response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Still, despite my own experiences, when I first started hearing, from my son I  copy/pasted my mother’s reaction.

You might think that I would have kept my own experiences of dealing with my own health and anxiety would have prepared me for when my own child began complaining of the same, but it didn’t at first. “Mama, my stomach hurts,” became a common complaint I heard from my son over the years, and somehow, even though I’d experienced such aches and had known them to be very real, didn’t totally or always react the way that I should have. I did encourage him to talk about his feelings and helped him role-play how to handle difficult situations at school, but I often felt or reacted in the same way about my son’s stomach pains in the way that my own mother did to mine: worry, avoid and sometimes dismiss.

As a parent, I made fun of myself for asking my own child if maybe he had to go to the bathroom when he complained of stomach pains, but I also knew that the feelings of nausea that he had those first days of kindergarten and first grade were indeed stress. The kind of stress, as a former pre-school teacher that I knew how to deal. So, when I dropped him off for school on those days that caused him anxiety, I drew on my training as a childcare worker. I spoke with the teacher. I worked hard not to allow him to feel like his anxious feelings about school were bad or wrong, and I let him talk about his feelings until it was time to make a clean break and leave him for the day. I reassured him that I’d be back, and I come back on time.

And yet, my eagerness to be attentive was not always applied or pursue so thoroughly or possibly with enough vigor.

Often when I heard complaints from my son about his stomachaches, I neglected hunting for answers. On occasions when the words “Mama, my stomach hurts” came out of his mouth, I didn’t ask him why? Or question him on whether or not he was feeling anxious or fearful about something. And while I did bring up his recurring stomach pains in the context of doctor’s visits, I did not take him to medical visits for these pains specifically. Mostly because I attributed his pains to his stranger anxiety and complications with making transitions.

What I did not realize at the time, was that stomach pains, or other somatic symptoms of stress, can lead to anxiety disorders and/or depression if left untreated. I also was not aware that there are ways, some that don’t cost money, that are capable of reducing stress and minimizing its effects. And simply knowing that the stomach pains could very well-be stress could minimize the stress and re-direct a family to take steps to reduce or treat stress.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are several psychological interventions that can be enacted to reduce stress and ease gastrointestinal pain. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy in order to “recognize and change stress-inducing thinking, relaxation techniques to calm the body, and gut-directed hypnosis, which combines deep relaxation with positive suggestions focused on gastrointestinal function.”

Recently, an article by Awareness Act titled “Children Won’t Say I Have Anxiety, They Say My Stomach Hurts,” caught my eye and motivated me to reach out to my circle of friends about their experiences of dealing with anxiety as parents. Many of my friends commented about how accurately the article described them as children and quite a few pointed out that oftentimes children will complain of being tired or having a headache.

As parents we often find ourselves wishing for a chance to pry open our children’s heads and see just what’s going on inside of their thoughts.

For parents of teenagers, this thought process can be especially true when our children become more quiet and insular and often even withdrawn.  Still, now I realize that sometimes as parents we’d do better to listen and watch. After all, how often do we as adults become withdrawn, tired or evens so filled with nerves in our stomachs that we become irritable and withdrawn ourselves? Over the years I’ve learned que mi hi’jo was trying to tell me how he was feeling all along: anxious and in need of my help.

If he were little again, I’d listen and take him to talk to a professional about his anxieties sooner. I’d also sit with him every day and tell him to close his eyes, take some deep breaths. Then I’d rub his tummy and say quietly, “Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.

Childcare Is More Expensive Than College, And These Parents Are Feeling The Effects

Things That Matter

Childcare Is More Expensive Than College, And These Parents Are Feeling The Effects


In honor of Labor Day, mitú is running a short series highlighting childcare providers in California and those affected by struggles with childcare. More than half of licensed providers are women of color. One in three providers in California are Latina. They and others are fighting for a fairer wage, collective bargaining within the government and many other issues. The final story in the series focuses on the parents struggling with accessing childcare.

Jillian Parker sits at a small school table, made specially for tiny child hands to draw funny little animals on construction paper. The table is located in the home of Tonia McMillan, a childcare provider who provides in-home care and education for Parker’s three children. The 29-year-old single mom of three says finding quality childcare hasn’t been hard for her.

The keeping it is hard,” she says.

This is a major problem parents are facing, stemming from financial strain to bureaucratic red tape. Mary Ignatius, an organizer with Parent Voices, identifies the main barriers to child care for parents to be a lack of supply, affordability and a bad system for subsidized care.

In most states, childcare is more expensive than a year of tuition at a state college. That’s not an exaggeration. In 2015, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report explaining how childcare has become out of reach for working families.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

EPI has an online Family Budget calculator where people can input family size and geographical location to calculate the average monthly and annual cost of living in different cities across the country. It estimates child care for two children in San Francisco, LA, and San Diego to cost $901/month. That’s $10,815 for a year of childcare. In New York, that cost skyrockets to $2,011/month, or $24,130/year. Basic tuition at San Diego State University is $7,184/year. At San Francisco State, it’s $6,484 for in-state students. A year at State University of New York, Buffalo is $21,550. Midwestern and southern states also follow this trend.

Driving the price of childcare are market rates, which vary from city to city, and the ratio of provider to child/children in their care. Infant care is the most expensive since you need one provider for every three infants in their care.

“Do you want someone watching more than 3 babies?” says Ignatius. “I can barely watch one! As children get older, gets a little less, but it’s still very expensive.”

Ignatius herself pays $1,500 a month in San Francisco for full-time childcare for her four-year-old son. If she had another child, that cost would more than double.

The child care system in place in the state of California is so broken that no one is winning: Not the childcare providers making as low as $2/hour and working 15-hour days minimum nor the parents that either can’t afford childcare costs or struggle trying to navigate the state’s subsidized care system.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

The ones most affected, however, are the children missing out on quality childcare and education, and low-income families and black and Latino families.

That leads to a series of larger social issues, like developmental setbacks, a higher risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline and many other societal problems that especially affect disadvantaged people of color.

As we shared in the first installment of this series, the childcare system is frustratingly confusing and tedious. While some parents pay out of pocket for child care, making it a somewhat simple transaction (you watched my child, here is the money I owe you), many others rely on subsidized childcare from the state government, with the government providing funding to local non-profits who then pay the providers directly.

Parker is one of those parents. And the process of maintaining subsidized care is an endless series of headaches.

“You take one piece of paper up there and you think you’re done, and then you’ll get a call two days later. ‘Oh, you’re missing this,’” says Parker. “And it’s like, ‘Ok why didn’t you tell me that when I was up there?’ You’ll take that and go back. I’ve gone to Tonia many times frustrated. They keep calling me because they need this or they need that, and she’s gone to bat for me many times. Like ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it.’”

Not only that, but if there is an issue with paperwork, if a parent’s hours changed, if they got a slight raise or something else comes up, agencies will stop approving care, even going so far as not paying providers for care they’ve already provided.

That back and forth often cuts into Parker’s work hours. Luckily, she has an understanding employer who sees the connection between her ability to work and her access to childcare. But many aren’t so lucky.

Lack of childcare has been proven to be a major barrier to unemployment for parents. The Center for American Progress reports that “2 million parents are forced to make career sacrifices due to problems with childcare.” In 2014, PBS reported that for many double-parent households it’s cheaper for a parent to stay home than pay for child care. Even that is a luxury though.

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

Twenty-five-year old Yolanda Palacios, a researcher for a construction notice company, and her husband, a working musician, struggle to get by, even on two incomes. Her student loan payments and child support for his daughter from a previous relationship have added extra financial strain. The little extra money they have is going towards her husband’s immigration lawyer, who is helping them establish permanent residency. He’s currently undocumented.

“We pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Staying home is not an option,” says Palacios. “Right now I’m just trying to find a higher paying job. But since we’re working on his residency I have to sponsor him. I need to have a stable income, so I don’t know if I go and get a new job it will affect his residency application.”

Currently, Palacios’ mom is providing childcare at little cost. However, her mom is planning on going back to work in the next year, leaving Palacios and her family in a tough spot. After researching childcare near her, she realized it’s out of reach and saving for that coming cost is nearly impossible.

It’s stressful. Right now I’m trying not to think about it,” she says. “But with the quality of childcare when we even get it – it’s stressful. I think about how my son is going to be affected because he’s used to my mom, and then he’s gonna be in a whole new environment.”

Leslie Zaragoza is a 27-year-old mother to a two-year-old. She and her husband are currently paying $400/month out of pocket to her mother-in-law and sister for childcare, and unfortunately, their cost just went up as they’ve had to move to a non-family provider. Zaragoza will now be paying $560/month to an at-home daycare, or $6,720/year. That’s a major increase for her family. They’ve moved in with her mom to save for a house, but are finding it hard to do so without sacrificing their son’s well being.

“It’s important for him to be in a daycare where he’s not just being watched but being taught,” she says. “I feel like all the daycares that offer education are a lot more expensive. It’s just frustrating not to be able to be able to afford a childcare where your child can get an education.”

She’s already seen behavioral issues with her son as a result of the instability of his childcare. While the financial burden is huge on her family, Zaragoza hopes her son will benefit from not bouncing around between providers anymore.

According to Ignatius, the current system “puts low-income families in a tough spot because it’s not great for provider,” who “have to take a gamble” on parents with subsidized care, knowing there’s a good chance they won’t get paid by the agencies for any number of reasons.

“It doesn’t benefit them to have these families, but those families need childcare,” she says.

However, providers often step up, sacrificing their own livelihoods by continuing to provide care for children even when parents can’t pay on time or subsidy agencies have their check on hold. And they do it because they’ve forged a tight bond with both parents and the children. There’s love there, and trust, despite a system that fails them both.

If you try to make childcare more affordable on the parents’ side, then it’s coming out of the pay that goes to the providers. Or on the flip side, if you increase pay to providers, you may have to pass on those costs to the parents,” says Ignatius. 

CREDIT: Photo credit: SEIU

“We’re in this system that’s pitting each side against each other and that’s wrong. And that’s why we need government intervention.”

Still, there have been some successes in the fight for childcare access. In California, the governor approved state funding of $25 million to help families remain eligible for childcare subsidies. They’ve raised the State Median Income (SMI) so working parents can accept a raise or promotion without losing their subsidized childcare. Families who are eligible for affordable childcare will now also remain eligible for 12 months, even if there’s a change in need or their income, unless their income goes over 85 percent of the current SMI.

That means less unnecessary paperwork that bogs down the entire system, from provider and parents, to employers and school and agency administrators who all have to fill out paperwork for one child to receive care. Parents previously had to go through the process every four months, sometimes with multiple employers that have multiple jobs. With this change, which goes into effect next month, there will be more stability for parents children and providers, and less disruption of both care and pay.

“It was all an attempt to catch someone in a lie; someone frauding the system,” says Ignatius. “In fact, agencies reported that the majority of their case load was still eligible after year, despite having to chase people down for documentation. There really was no need to require that. Providers also caught in middle because if documents are not filed, providers don’t get paid.”

It’s a step in the right direction; a necessary stitch in a bleeding wound. Parents, providers, and organizers are fighting hard to improve the system for all. But there’s still much more that needs to be won. It’s all so providers and families can thrive, and children can grow healthier and have greater opportunities. It’s about breaking the systemic cycles that keep them perpetually at a disadvantage, unable to gain the opportunities this country promises to those who work hard and dream for more. Their dreams are basic, and it’s up to the government to decide if they can reach them.

READ: Meet The Organizers Fighting For Childcare Providers Who Are Struggling To Get By

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