Like thousands of family child care providers across Los Angeles County, Ramona Duran’s day begins at a frantic pace. While most Angelenos are still asleep, Ramona is up before sunrise preparing for the first family to arrive at 5 a.m. at the Long Beach day care center she operates. She checks on the status of a healthy breakfast cooking in the kitchen and makes some last minute arrangements of the play area. Ramona’s Day Care is not a baby-sitting service; it is the center of her community and a labor of love. What she loves most is taking care of the “little ones” and helping families.
“I help the family to go to school, to go to work [and] go to the doctor,” Ramona says. She truly enables families to thrive.
Unfortunately, thousands of women who serve our youngest and most at-risk children struggle to make ends meet; family child care providers earn less than $20,000 per year. Providing care for children puts a great strain on homes and many of these women face the constant threat of foreclosure because of low wages and inconsistent payment schedules. In spite of these challenges, family child care providers offer a service unmatched in the early education field. They create a family setting for young learners that is open late nights and on weekends. Many providers speak multiple languages and cater to bilingual and non-English speaking families. They are integral to making a community work for all families.
Ramona cannot do this alone — she needs help to be the best support system for the families she cares for. She looks to her labor union (Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union) to provide her information, opportunities to improve her skills, friendship and support. One of the best opportunities that her union representative and friend, Marta Delgado, provides is access to ongoing education, such as helping Ramona enroll in specialized classes at Harbor College. Ramona attends monthly workshops that provide her with a stronger understanding of early childhood development, new ideas on how to incorporate skill building and play into her routine, and with a strong community of other providers. Marta also helps Ramona navigate the complicated world of reimbursements and paperwork that are a fact of life in the early childhood profession.
Like Ramona, Carla works hectic hours to create an around-the-clock family child care home. In addition to the children she cares for during the day, she takes care of three children overnight, from 11 p.m.-7 a.m. Unlike Ramona, Carla does not have the support of a union representative. She must manage paperwork and multiple billing cycles by herself, and struggle to continue her education. Carla says that she “looked forward to adding educational certificates” to her child care home to increase her skills, but could not access any classes because of budget cuts. She did not know where to turn.
Child care providers like Ramona and Carla are an invaluable part of their communities, but the current system is pushing providers out of the field. Budget cuts are eliminating training. Low wages are leading to high turnover, home foreclosure and a loss of 11 percent of family child care providers. The loss of providers is leaving parents, particularly from low income communities, struggling to find quality care. And yet the current cuts in funding continue to force out providers. This is particularly the case for providers like Carla, who have not joined the union and are left to negotiate a complex landscape on their own.