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Paine: A View Of Child Care From Three Feet

Arizona politics is nothing to laugh about. Especially when you’re viewing the action from three feet off the playground.

At that height, toddlers can see where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

And the message to the kids from the State Legislature is loud and clear: “Your interests and needs just don’t rise to the level of other legislative priorities.”

Look at the state budget: inadequate funding for Child Protective Services with a promise to “revisit it”; disinvestments in public schools and early childhood education; resistance to standards for high-level learning, and the list goes on.

If the data about Arizona’s pathetic rankings in child wellness and educational attainment won’t incite action for higher levels of investment, perhaps an eye-to-eye visit with the kids in local child care centers will.

I visit child care centers in South Phoenix where nearly 50 percent of the residents are single parents and 25 percent are married couples with kids, where household income is nearly 70 percent lower than that of Metro Phoenix, and where the gap between demand and the supply of quality affordable care is increasing.

I see first-hand the uphill battle of child-minders to provide a safe, healthy and caring environment, and I hear their stories of parents struggling to afford child care and of providers doing the best they can with limited resources.

I see home-based centers where one set of mothers or grandmothers provide food, play, and safety so that other mothers can work and put food on the table. I see child care in the churches or charter schools, some well-equipped, others not.

And I know at the end of the day that there is no level playing field and that too many kids will be casualties of an under-resourced system.

We have never been short on solutions: a uniform state policy for child care, increased subsidies for parents, partnerships to enable greater access to child care and early childhood education. We are only short on political will.

Kids in this state are like kites in the wind, their well-being rising and falling based on a political tug of war. So what will it take to pull the right strings and stop the drag on their potential?

The answer is, it’s an election year. Pack up the toddlers and bring them to the candidates. Look them straight in the eyes. Flex those tiny political muscles and let the candidates know that their election depends on your vote and that neglect has its consequences.

Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant and social critic.