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What do kids need to flourish, and how can we support their development?

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity. 

ANGIE MILES - Today we're talking with professionals who work directly with Virginia's children to gauge their needs and to learn how we can support their development. Our guests today are Lisa Thompson, of child savers. Clark Anders, who's with the Virginia Child Care Association, and Delysia Riddick, who's with the Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children. Welcome, everyone, thank you for joining us today. 

ALL GUESTS – Thank you for having us. 

ANGIE MILES - Now, of course, I'm talking with three people who love children and who have committed themselves to the work of helping young kids. And we're talking today about a crisis. But before we get into it, I'd like to hear a little bit about you and your organization's starting with you, Lisa, can you tell us about child savers? What is your mission? What is the work that you do? 

LISA THOMPSON, CHILDSAVERS - So ChildSavers is a nonprofit agency. We've been around since 1924. Our mission is to help guide our community's children through life’s critical moments with trauma-informed mental health services and child development services. Currently, we are very fortunate that we have all of the state early childcare initiatives within our agencies so we can support our childcare providers through many array of services. 

ANGIE MILES - Okay, excellent. Clark, Andrs with VCCA. Tell us about your organization. 

CLARK ANDRS, VIRGINIA CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION - So we represent state licensed childcare centers from all across the Commonwealth, we work very closely with helping them voice their concerns, voice their opinions, to state legislators, to Department of Education. Our organization is based here in Richmond, so we're, you know, in the vicinity where we can reach out to these policymakers. And you know, when things are going great, we let them know when we have concerns, we let them know, but we're basically an owner's organization, just trying to represent owners of licensed childcare centers, again, all throughout the state. 

ANGIE MILES - And Delysia, what your organization does is? 

DELYSIA RIDDICK - VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN - So, VAAEYC is the Virginia affiliate of NAEYC and we have early childhood providers, teachers, district leaders and administrators all over the state of Virginia, come together to convene and discuss issues about early childhood topics. And we have a large conference every year that we have people from all over the nation, join us and share and learn about early childhood topics. 

ANGIE MILES - Childcare is in crisis, exacerbated through the pandemic, but really a crisis that started before that. And I want to talk about really two prongs of this crisis. On the one hand, we have an economic and business crisis. On the other hand, we have a human needs crisis going on in childcare. My first question, Lisa, for you is about the human side of that. Children, by and large, are not getting everything they need in early childcare settings. Can you elaborate on that for us? 

LISA THOMPSON, CHILDSAVERS - So many of our children are in childcare centers and the teachers are really struggling to meet the children's needs based on what they have experienced during this pandemic. And I would like to focus for a moment just on infant and toddlers. And so, for two and a half, three years of their early lives, they saw most of their caregivers wearing a mask. And because of that mask, we know that many children who are nonverbal, they rely on facial expressions. And so, we have seen a gap. Unfortunately, with infant and toddler children being able to connect words, to emotions, words to actions, only because a mask was on that teachers face for most of their early years. And so, what we would like to see we talk about the human gap is just teachers feeling more comfortable and being more authentic and patient with the little ones to help them bounce back. Because this has been a traumatic experience for all, but especially for our nonverbal infants and toddlers. 

ANGIE MILES - What kinds of things are being done, though, to help care providers to span the distance of that gap? 

LISA THOMPSON, CHILDSAVERS - There's a program called Virginia Quality Birth to Five, where we're really focusing on teacher-child interactions. It's a tool that is being used called class. And that tool really focuses in on making sure that all teachers are engaging in authentic, real conversations with children. They're having that back and forth conversation, they're giving them encouragement, and letting them know that they're doing a great job and saying more than just a great job, but “thank you for picking up all the blue toys on the floor.” So, we're just helping teachers to refine what they already know how to do. But just be more intentional. 

ANGIE MILES - How about VAAEYC? What kinds of things are you doing to support the care providers as they're interacting with children and making up some of the gap that's, that's occurred? 

DELYSIA RIDDICK, VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN – VAAEYC makes sure to partner with the Virginia Department of Education and other local organizations to train and have opportunities for class, like tutorials, and making it readily available for providers to learn more and know the why of why this change was made in Virginia. 

ANGIE MILES - So we know that children need love, they need to feel safe and secure, right? They need to work on developing their language and communication skills. Okay. They need what else? What else do very young children need, that maybe we need to focus on more as a society ensuring that they get? 

LISA THOMPSON, CHILDSAVERS - All children need someone to be the advocate and be their biggest cheerleader. And I think that's the one thing that Virginia children need the most. 

ANGIE MILES - We don't have enough workers and that's true in childcare. It's true across many industries. It is especially true in childcare. Clark, can you talk a little bit about that as an owner? 

CLARK ANDRS, VIRGINIA CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION - I've been doing this for 33 years and I've never seen anything like it. It is so difficult to hire teachers. I own two childcare centers in Chesterfield County. And limited number of staff, you have to be creative, and how you are able to still care for the children that you currently have enrolled. And the idea of growth right now or expanding the, you know, trying to service more children in the Commonwealth, it's just about impossible to do. Because it's so difficult to find teachers. 

ANGIE MILES - Virginia is suffering along with the country in missing millions of people who would be in the workforce, but they cannot find anyone to care for their children. It's been called a public health crisis. We've had people from Columbia University, Harvard Business Review, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, all speaking loudly about this issue, calling on businesses calling on the government to do something, because the future is in jeopardy if we do nothing. Do you have a perspective on where we are ideas where we might go from here? 

CLARK ANDRS, VIRGINIA CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION - I have one idea I would like to share in Virginia childcare association we have shared this with policymakers. There's a hurdle that we are faced with, if we find an employee who wants to come and work for us, wants to be a teacher. Well, there's background checks we have to do, which I support 100%. But there's a fingerprint background check that has to be done. And that turnaround time for that is two to three days. It's pretty reasonable. But there's also a central registry check that has to be done through the Department of Social Services. The last one I did for an employee took 39 days, 39 days, and the way the Code of Virginia is existing. I can't bring that new teacher on the property and even begin training. I cannot do anything until I have that secondary check again, that central registry tech. So, we're pleading and this is not federal law. Federal law allows you to bring employees in you got to have the fingerprinting. But after you have the fingerprinting, you can bring them in and begin training while you're waiting on the central registry check Virginia, just Virginia on their own has decided not to allow that. And we're pleading with them to please allow us to bring these teachers in and begin working them while we're waiting on those other checks. And the tricky part of that is when you find someone who's who is willing to work, you then are potentially asking them sit at home and wait for 30 days until the paperwork clears. We've got to figure out a way to speed up that process. 

ANGIE MILES - What about the money? Childcare workers, famously, bottom 2% of earners among working people, families spending 10 to 15% of their income on childcare for some single families, not necessarily in Virginia but in other states might spend as much as half of what they make on childcare. That is a formula that hasn't worked for a long time. And it's still not working. Is there something that the government that society as a whole needs to do to improve the social safety net, so that families can afford to go to work if they want to? 

CLARK ANDRS, VIRGINIA CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION - It's kind of a financial conundrum right now, for us to increase the salaries to teachers, which they need, and they deserve. It's a direct correlation to an increase in the rates to parents and parents already struggling to pay the existing tuition. So, it's just a financial equation that just doesn't work right now. And, you know, we would welcome the state to step in and help us in any way possible, to be able to increase salaries to teachers. 

ANGIE MILES - There are plenty of people who will say, "I don't have kids, or my kids are grown, or this doesn't affect me... And "if people have children, they should pay for them." What is the answer to that? 

LISA THOMPSON, CHILDSAVERS - I personally do not have children. But I also know that when I go to the bank, when I go to the grocery store, when I go to the doctor, when I even come here and talk to you, there are people that still need to have jobs, and be in places so that we can operate as a country. And so, I think once we recognize that childcare is workforce development, I don't see us closing that gap. And so, we need stakeholders, irregardless of what business they currently work for, we need all stakeholders to invest and early childcare, because one day, those little two-year-olds, three-year-olds and four-yea-olds are going to be the people you see sitting here in different jobs. And so, they need that early foundation. 

DELYSIA RIDDICK, VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN - The state has done so many things to make early childhood education, better post COVID-19. They have invested money into resources and initiatives such as stream three, which is a new curriculum, and the early childhood mental health consultation pilot, which is providing free resources to families and childcare providers of children birth to five, but there are so many things that can still be done to keep the ball rolling. And I just really appreciate any opportunities like this, to put a light on why these topics are important. And that even if you don't have a little one that's directly affected by this one day. Those same little people will be sitting in seats like this. So, it's just important to support the people that are supporting them. 

ANGIE MILES - By no means have we solved this dilemma right now. But we will share on our website, additional resources ways people can get in touch with each of you... Thank you again so much for being with us, Lisa Thompson, Clark Andrs, Delysia Riddick, thank you for joining us for this important discussion. 

ALL GUESTS – Thank you for having us. Thank you.