Image courtesy of Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance.
In the housing world, we know that ending homelessness and the affordable housing crisis requires a multifaceted approach: the proverbial three-legged stool of housing construction, subsidies, and supportive services for tenants. We also know that these solutions need to work in tandem with one another in order to ameliorate our current situation; one leg of the stool alone is not enough to support us all.
So what happens when we put the three-legged stool in conversation with other social and economic issues, like early childhood education? We find that the same kind of multifaceted approach is necessary to make sure that all Vermont children have access to high quality, affordable early childhood education – and that affordable housing is central to making that happen.
Chlidcare has to be affordable to the families that need it, while early childhood educators need to receive wages that reflect the importance of the work they do. Without solutions that tackle the problem from all sides – from access to affordability to compensation – we cannot ensure that every Vermont child receives the early education they deserve.
At Vermont’s Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance’s Early Childhood Day the Legislature, VAHC and Downstreet’s Alison Friedkin had the opportunity to present to early childhood advocates about the importance of housing and homelessness in their profession, both in their lives and in the lives of the children they serve. The day was a great opportunity to make connections and collaborate across issues that sometimes seem unrelated.
One piece of the puzzle is making sure that educators are paid a wage where they can afford to live close to where they work. Currently, early childhood education is among the least profitable majors for an undergraduate degree. What does it say about our society when we cannot value our early childhood educators at their worth, and what does it mean when dedicated educators are forced to take on side jobs or quit altogether in order to make ends meet?
The median income for child care workers in Vermont is $23,400 a year. This number falls short of the $46,585 the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates a worker needs to earn in Vermont in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Vermont. To that end, many early childhood educators rely on public benefits to make ends meet; some even refuse raises because they would “lose” more than they would gain. In addition, early childhood educators are often faced with the choice to either work undercompensated or transition to a profession where they can make ends meet.
When educators are compensated fairly, they can focus on their work as educators and dedicate themselves to their profession – and ensure that Vermont’s children are receiving top-notch education and care.
Another piece is ensuring that all children have safe and stable places to live. So many of the educators who came to VAHC’s presentation had stories about children who were couchsurfing or living in cars – and these experiences have drastic impacts on a child’s lifelong health and education outcomes. Research shows that residential instability early in life has “negative impacts on children’s mental health and vocabulary development.” Children who move multiple times show “difficulty adapting, express negative social behaviors, and have a greater chance of dropping out of high school.”
Just as investing in livable wages for childhood educators and affordable childcare for our children is an investment in our future, so is expanding access to affordable housing. By improving the quality of early childhood education, we are improving upon the later-in-life outcomes these children will face, from improved school performance to improved employment prospects. By increasing access to affordable housing, we are ensuring that Vermont’s families and children can more easily avoid the adverse childhood experiences associated with housing instability and other unsafe housing conditions. While early childhood education and housing affordability may initially seem unrelated, we cannot solve either issue without addressing them both.
Children under five make over a million new connections every second. They need to live in safe, stable, and affordable places that support these developments, and the adults who educate them need to be compensated at a liveable wage.
“The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development,” Urban Institute. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32721/412908-The-Negative-Effects-of-Instability-on-Child-Development-Fact-Sheet.PDF
“How are Vermont’s Young Children and Families? 2018 Report,” Building Better Futures. https://477l7snyayj49hh0r38uhcqo-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/BBF-2018-HAVYCF-FINAL-SINGLES-1.pdf
“Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance asks legislators to invest in kids,” VT Digger. https://vtdigger.org/2019/03/22/vermont-early-childhood-advocacy-alliance-asks-legislators-invest-kids/