by Anissa Durham
Originally appeared in Word in Black
BriTanya Brown, childcare provider and founder of Our Loving Village in Stamford, Texas, starts her day at 4 a.m. In the first two hours, she gets herself ready, puts food in the crockpot, and gets her 4-year-old twins ready for the day.
At 6 a.m., parents drop off their children, ages 0 to 14. Some babies are still asleep. A few don’t want to leave their moms. And others are saying hi to the other toddlers around.
By 7 a.m., all of the children in the daycare program had arrived. She also cared for children with intellectual disabilities.
From 7:15-to-8:00 a.m., Brown serves breakfast. She gives the children a variety of nutritional options. Some children prefer cereal, but she prioritizes giving them a hot home-cooked meal, whether that’s eggs, French toast, oatmeal, pancakes, or breakfast burritos.
After breakfast comes a hygiene program. She teaches all the children how to wash their hands and brush their teeth, and she potty trains them.
One of the core elements of her daycare program is play. Once the children get cleaned up from breakfast, they play in the garden, pick fresh fruit, and participate in circle time.
This is the time when she teaches the kids, no matter what age, about social and emotional learning. For example, at 18 months, she potty trains the children, teaching them that their food will turn into pee and poop, and helping the children to hold it and speak up when they need to use the bathroom.
Brown promises to potty train any child within two weeks. For children with disabilities, she helps them learn their body cues and signal when they need to go.
After circle time, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., the children play. Brown helps the younger kids with finger play, which helps their motor skills develop.
As noon nap time approaches, she gives the children snacks and reads them books to calm them down. Nap time is 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Some children fall asleep later or wake up a little earlier, but most sleep for at least 2 hours. Once awake, she gives them one more snack before 3 p.m. pickup.
By 3:15, the children are picked up.
And at 3:30 p.m., the teenage kids start to arrive for Brown’s evening and overnight program. The format is like the daycare program. They eat a snack, decompress from school, and they get time to do their homework.
But she also gives them assignments — anything from sweeping, to taking out the trash, to washing the dishes. She tailors their tasks to their age to teach them life skills. And she makes herself available for the teens to talk to her about their day or family struggles.
Some of the older teens get picked up in the evening. Others spend the night and get picked up the next morning before the daycare children arrive.
That was Brown’s daily routine for the last four years. Until the building she ran her home-based program out of burned down in July 2023.
Black Women, Our Nation’s First Providers of Childcare
Keisha Nzewi, co-founder of Black Californians United for Early Care and Education, is working to provide policies that focus on Black children and families. The early childcare space is historically underfunded.
In California and many states nationwide, what parents can afford to pay is not a livable wage for childcare providers. And the wages many Black parents make are not enough to pay for childcare.
According to a 2019 report by the University of California, Berkley, childcare educators in California are underpaid, with many living dangerously close to or below the poverty level. Childcare providers are almost exclusively women, and the majority are women of color.
“In the early childhood space, Black women have historically been our nation’s first providers of childcare, starting in chattel slavery,” Nzewi says. “Enslaved Black women had to care for their oppressor’s children. And we continue to care for white families’ children.”
But when white women entered the childcare space, she says Black women became less trusted. In the last couple of decades, there’s been a shift in language about early childcare. Nzewi says many experts are focused on providing high-quality childcare “that best emulates white dominant culture and white supremacist values and completely ignores the centuries of (Black women) caring for everyone’s children.”
In a 2022 report by Child Care Aware of America, California was the least affordable state for infants in center-based settings. Many childcare providers cannot afford to raise prices, as they would push out families who are already struggling to pay. Providers have also sought federal and state funding to keep their programs affordable and afloat.
“We really have to fix the racial wage gap, which will take policy changes,” Nzewi says. “We’re fighting the state of California. Some of it can come through reparations or stipends to childcare providers to help them keep their businesses open. And keep them out of debt.”
Culturally Affirming Childcare Is Necessary to the Health of Black Children
It’s not just about paying childcare workers a livable wage. Nzewi says culturally affirming childcare is needed to protect our Black children. With so much anti-Blackness in K-12 settings, many Black children experience adultification bias, which starts at infancy.
“Going into spaces as our youngest selves that don’t appreciate who we are, which includes our Blackness, I believe harms our love of learning before we’ve even made it to school,” Nzewi says. “Our public school system works really hard to take away the love of learning from our Black children.”
The first five years of a child’s life are considered the most crucial period in their development and learning. In those years, children learn to communicate, calm down when picked up or spoken to, sit up without support, walk, and hold things in their hands, among dozens of other important milestones.
About 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5. A 2020 report by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child said a safe environment helps children develop a healthy brain. When children feel unsafe or experience adversity or stress, they may develop physiological responses and behaviors that become aware of harsh conditions.
When a developing child experiences environmental stressors, their brain, heart, and lung function, digestion, energy production, and ability to fight infection are all affected, the report states. If children experience long-term stressors, they have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and mental health problems.
Balancing Affordability With Bills
Brown is all too familiar with the importance of her role as an early educator. She has a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy and political science and is a bilingual certified teacher of early childhood through sixth grade.
While growing up, she watched her two grandmothers run a home-based childcare program. They took pride in being the caretakers of the community and nurturing the children. She says they gave the children opportunities to exist safely while everything around them seemed like chaos.
“It has always been a passion of mine to carry on that caretaker spirit,” Brown says.
Prior to starting Our Loving Village, Brown already had more than six years of early childcare health experience. One of her roles was as a director of a preschool program and the other a church-based program.
The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 per hour. Most of the families she works with make that much or less. To keep up with her bills while also making her program affordable, Brown charges $200 a week for up to 40 hours of childcare per child.
While other providers in the area charge more, as a mother, she knows she would never be able to afford anything more than that. And wants to provide high-quality affordable childcare in a family environment. But not without a cost. Her home-based childcare program ran 24/7. At times she would care for 23 to 36 children in and out of her home, alone.
“When did I sleep?” Brown says. “I couldn’t, because if I was trying to sleep, I was up worrying about the bills that I couldn’t afford to pay.”
‘You Can’t Pay Rent With Love’
To offset the fee she charges parents, Brown relies on federal and state funding programs to keep her childcare program running. One source of funding she relies on is from the American Rescue Plan Act, which offered emergency funding for childcare during the pandemic.
The federal funding is set to expire on Sept. 30.
According to The Century Foundation, about 3.2 million children could lose their childcare spots. More than 230,000 jobs are expected to be lost, and more than 70,000 childcare programs are projected to close. Texas, where Brown lives, is estimated to have the highest loss of childcare, of more than 305,000.
“When you don’t fund childcare, all of these other ripple effects happen,” Brown says.
Andrea Paluso, co-director of Child Care for Every Family, a childcare advocacy organization, says the latest set expiration of federal funding is not new. The stabilization funds went out to states and provided grants to providers to weather the COVID crisis.
“We’ve never had enough public investment in childcare to build a comprehensive system that can serve all of our families,” she says. “We have a system that largely depends on the exploited labor of a lot of women of color and immigrant women to work in the childcare system at really low wages.”
Families with children are financially struggling. Childcare providers across the country are financially struggling. Paluso says the childcare system, as it currently exists, is more of a patchwork of programs. Taking away this funding will only further starve the already crumbling and inadequate childcare system.
“Providers are caring, generous, and amazing people doing some of the hardest work that you can do. And they really do love the kids and families that they’re working with.” Paluso says. “But you can’t pay rent with love, right?”
This puts more pressure on families and providers to pick up the pieces and figure it out. But low-income families and providers of color almost always take the brunt of the hit. Some providers will risk the economic security of their families to support their communities.
Texas, Florida, and New York are expected to experience the highest loss of childcare. But, Paluso says that’s because many of these states haven’t invested their state budgets to make childcare more accessible and affordable.
“We can’t afford one day without childcare,” Brown says. “Many childcare providers, like myself, are thinking about going into other industries because we don’t want our children to suffer. As we try to make a safe place for other children and families to exist.”