A Love Letter to Childcare Workers


During a local school board meeting earlier this summer, representatives of the teachers union spoke emotionally about their fear of returning to in-person teaching. “I want to go back into the classroom more than anything….but it is not safe to do so,” she cried. “In what other profession are people being asked to stay indoors, for eight hour a day, in close proximity to others?” Safely muted over Zoom, I answered her rhetorical question, “Childcare.”

I agree with the decision of my school district to delay in person learning. But it is impossible to ignore a glaring inconsistency. Schools aren’t safe for teachers… and yet childcare centers are safe for workers? Schools throughout the Bay Area will provide distance learning in August.  Meanwhile childcare centers have been open for months.

I am not the first person to draw attention to this hypocrisy. There have been numerous articles written about it. Childcare providers and advocates throughout the country have been screaming from the rooftops. This pandemic has drawn attention to so much glaring inequality in our society and this is just one of many examples. Childcare workers, who are primarily low-income women of color, are being forced onto the front lines of this pandemic even as we keep our K-12 teachers home. For those of us who work in the childcare industry, this isn’t particularly surprising. If anything it is totally expected. The devaluing of this workforce is rooted in sexism, racism and classism. This pandemic is shining a bright spotlight on all of our preconceptions of these workers and this work. It has also spotlighted something even more basic. Our devaluation of a word embedded in the name for this work force: “caring.”

Words Matter

There is a push in the world of early childhood to take the world “childcare” out of circulation. Instead, we use terms like “early education” and “preschools.”  The words “education” and “school” in and of themselves hold power. We automatically respect the notion of “teaching,” and “educating.” Meanwhile, words like “caring” “tending” and “babysitting” intrinsically hold less value. The push towards high quality early education is important. But also, we cannot let this language overpower the far less glamorous–and I would argue more important–job of childcare workers.


  • 75-80% of brain development happens in the first five years of life.
  • By the time children start Kindergarten, their brains are essentially complete.
  • Young children are social beings and they learn through positive adult relationships.
  • Many children spend up to fifty hours per week in childcare.

Those facts alone should convince any rational person that working in a daycare is the most important job in the world. And yet the work of a childcare provider is invisible to the vast majority of us. Because the work of these (mostly women) looks exactly like the work that has been considered valueless for most of human history.

The value of caring

Our society doesn’t value this work because this is the work of caring. We don’t value this work for the same reason that most Americans don’t get paid maternity leave. That nurses are paid less than doctors. That social workers are paid less than police officers. We don’t see “caring” as valuable.

Ten years ago, I was a new social worker full of big ideas but without a lot of experience. I sat with a wealthy tech executive in his mansion in Palo Alto talking to him about his three year old son with autism. “Thank you,” he told me, his eyes watering, “for helping us with the most precious thing in our lives…our little boy.”

I was new to this work. I was underpaid and overworked and I was still learning my job. Most of the time, I felt like I was learning as I went. But I cared about the children on my caseload and their families. I cared about them deeply, and they could tell. My caring was everything.

In 2020, our childcare workers are putting their lives at risk every day. A lot has been written about how much our economy relies on childcare. But it is more than that. These workers aren’t just important because they make it possible for Americans to go to work.  Childcare centers are not storage units for America’s children. They are growing the brains of the future.

I see you

So I want to say, to the teachers at my son’s childcare, who have loved and cared for him for two years already: I see you. I see the way you tenderly hold his hand and lead him inside when he’s feeling nervous. How you joke with me about his Star Wars obsession. To the teachers I work with, I see how well you know these children. How you tell me, “I don’t think that strategy will work for her….she only likes to transition outside when she gets to be the leader.”

The quiet, beautiful, invisible, unassuming every day work of childcare workers is this: blowing bubbles in anticipation of a child having a difficult time at drop off. Celebrating when an 11 month old takes her first steps. You know these babies. You rejoice at their victories, delight at their mischief, problem solve around their challenges. The children see themselves reflected in your eyes and they know that they are cared for and loved. Your students blossom within this love. Everyday their brains grow and shape within a relationship with you.

To all the childcare workers on the front lines: thank you for caring for our most precious thing: our children. My hope is that as a society, we will also care for you.


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