What the Child Care Crisis Does to Parents

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, physiologist Molly Dickens—founder of the Maternal Stress Project—addresses the impact of inadequate and unaffordable childcare on the health of parents both physical and mental: 

“In September, federal relief funding put in place to support more than 220,000 child care programs during the pandemic abruptly expired. This steep drop-off in investment, which has been termed a child-care cliff, is projected to lead to the closing of thousands of preschools and child care centers around the country. . . . 

We know inadequate child care is an economic issue, costing states, families and businesses billions of dollars every year. We know it’s a gender issue that contributes to a widening pay gap. We know it’s a policy issue, made worse by the absences of a federal pre-K program and a federal paid-leave policy. But here is another critical consideration worth pushing for: Our country’s inadequate child care system is also a health care issue.

For years, parents, particularly mothers, have been shouldering the burden of the child care shortage, assuming additional caretaking responsibilities and shelling out untenable amounts of money to cover the increasing costs of outside care. And we worry that as we begin to see the fallout from this latest wave of disruption, the thin lifelines holding families together and safeguarding the well-being of parents may snap. . . . 

A cornerstone of strong families is mental and physical health. Decreasing the stress load on parents will not only improve their long-term health but will also improve the health of their children. We have an opportunity to recognize that social infrastructure is a critical aspect of mental health. We have an opportunity to alleviate a key source of stress on families and pave the way for more Americans to live healthier lives. This goal should be a priority for us as a country.”

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