The past year has been a painful one for many, but families with young children have borne a heavy burden. Many parents struggled to keep their babies safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic and made sacrifices in their own lives for doing so. I would know because I am one of them.
For years I was fortunate to have a wonderful job helping families get the support they needed to make ends meet. The families I worked with were hard working, dedicated caregivers who just needed a little help from SNAP or SoonerCare. Many families could not work because they did not have access to high quality and affordable childcare. Often they were not eligible for childcare assistance, and even when they did, there were no jobs for them on local programs.
When my own daughter was born last winter, I was one of the families in need of care. We applied on one waiting list after the other, and there were never any vacancies. The cost of childcare, we found, was about half my personal income. We were also afraid of taking a newborn to a center during a pandemic when little was known about the risks. Ultimately, it was best for me to stay home, leave the workforce, and get out of a job that I loved.
My family was lucky enough to be able to support this decision, but not so many others. Even before the pandemic, in Oklahoma, only about 8% of infants and toddlers in low- and middle-income families had access to subsidized childcare. And COVID-19 has made a difficult situation even worse as childcare programs are inadequate to cope with the crisis.
What happens in a baby’s first few years affects them for the rest of their life. With the right resources, daycare centers provide children with a safe environment, nurturing relationships, and positive early learning experiences. But COVID-19 has revealed a fragile, underfunded childcare system that is not what our babies need to thrive.
Earlier this spring, I was proud to represent Oklahoma at ZERO TO THREE’s annual Strolling Thunder event, which brings families from every state in the country together – virtually – to meet and discuss with our elected officials how we can best support our children. When I shared my story with representatives from the offices of Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Tom Cole, I told them we needed a strong child care system to come back from this pandemic.
The families of Oklahoma need Sen. Lankford and Rep. Cole, along with Sen. Jim Inhofe, to support childcare policies and investments that create quality, long-term, comprehensive solutions for working families like mine. My career is part of who I am and how I affect my world. In this way, I hope to set a strong example for my daughter of who she can be and what she can be. On the way out of this pandemic, I really hope that our elected officials will work to put families in Oklahoma first.
Alexis Barker is a housewife who lives in Norman.
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