Guest post from Tiffany Welch of the Save The Children Action Network organization.
My husband and I moved to Iowa from the West Coast in April, 2007. Moving to Iowa was a wonderful decision for many reasons, and I have especially loved participating in Iowa presidential politics. I had my first taste of Iowa caucus excitement when we met the Obama family at an I-Cubs game on July 4, 2007.
I have enjoyed meeting presidential candidates from various political persuasions up close over the caucus cycles. I studied human development for my bachelor’s degree, so many of my top priorities to discuss with candidates involve families and children, and ways to improve both.
I connected with Save the Children Action Network, the advocacy arm of Save the Children, in the fall of 2015. I have learned through their training how to craft a quick and effective question when the chance to meet a candidate arrives. This year, most of my questions involve asking about a candidate’s specific plans to expand access to quality child care and early childhood education.
I was five months pregnant with our first child when we arrived in Iowa, and though we didn’t have extended family here, we quickly made friends through our local church congregation. Anytime any of them asked what I planned to do for childcare when I went back to work, I always said, “Oh, I’ll just enroll him in a center or something.”
Many of these friends were stay-at-home parents without experience finding child care in the area. However, one friend responded, “Good luck, we’ve looked for spots for our baby for a while and it’s really hard to find anything.” She was three months pregnant, and already on several waiting lists.
Clearly, I was unprepared for the child care struggle many Iowans face. We lived in Des Moines, where there are potential spots for children in child care programs. Much of the state is in a child care desert, where there are few or no licensed providers to even have the chance for a spot.
Eventually, after getting on several waiting lists, we made close friends with a woman from church who was able to be our caregiver. We called her Grandma Gloria, and we adored her. She treated my son so well, like a loving grandmother. I went back to work at a job I loved, and even though my job didn’t pay very well, we were able to make it work with child care expense, at least for a while.
After almost a year, it became clear that it just wasn’t going to work. I was paying almost two-thirds of my paycheck for child care. The little money I did bring home didn’t seem worth the tradeoff of being away from my son so much. By my staying home, we’d be in a lower tax bracket, almost making up for my not working. My husband’s earning potential was much more than mine, so we decided that I would be the one to stay home. It broke my heart to turn in my notice to my employer.
I fully recognize that we were lucky to still be in a situation where we could make one paycheck stretch far enough for our family. Many families are not. This caucus cycle, I personally have heard Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, and Elizabeth Warren speak of plans to expand child care access. Many other candidates have talked about more funding for K-12 education, and I hope to add preschool and child care into the conversation as I meet them over the coming months.
Affordable, quality child care access is essential for a comprehensive approach to educational success, as well as economic success. Expanding child care development block grants will help many families contribute more to their employers. Expanding current partnerships with local community groups, and finding new creative solutions with local groups is another way to encourage growth for employment. This presidential caucus cycle, I look forward to what candidates have to say about how, exactly, they will invest in kids, and their families.
by Tiffany Welch