Evanston child care employees, much as their colleagues nationally, have been among the most overlooked and vulnerable essential workers during the pandemic.

Credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Evanston City Council members took note of their service voting unanimously at their Monday, July 25, meeting to allocate up to $500,000 in COVID-relief funds for a Child Care Workforce Retention Program.

The program will provide premium bonus payments, estimated between $600 and $1,200, to employees working in-person at Evanston child care facilities with children up to the age of 5.

Earlier in the evening, members of the Council’s Human Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend using a portion of the city’s federal $43.1 million American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding in a proposal to the council. Human Services officials had identified child care services as a priority need early on in the pandemic.

“The financial challenges faced by child care workers, as well as child care providers’ challenges in retaining their employees has been well documented,” wrote Jessica Wingader, Social Services Grants & Compliance Specialist with the city, in a memo to the council recommending approval.

“COVID-19 has taken an enormous toll on the child care industry, whose employees are identified as essential workers who work in-person with very young children. Since the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] only recently approved vaccinations for young children, they were at high risk of contracting COVID, as were their teachers and caregivers. Additionally, many child care workers are women and/or people of color, populations that have experienced disproportionately negative financial and health impacts from the pandemic.”

Retention a major goal

Credit: Sen via Unsplash

Under the rules governing the dispersal of ARPA funds, the stipends would go to those serving low- or moderate-income families, defined as “disparately impacted,” explained Wingader.

In Evanston, an estimated 300 staff members could be eligible to receive premium pay of $1,200; staff members who do not serve primarily disparately impacted children are eligible for a premium pay award of $600.

Officials are hopeful the program “will provide a return on investment as it will incentivize child care staff to remain employed in their current roles and providers serving low/moderate income households would be prioritized for funding,” wrote Wingader.

Salaries ‘not commensurate with risk’

Before the council vote, Tina Vanderwarker, outgoing executive director of the Covenant Nursery  School and incoming director of Evanston Early Childhood Council, spoke in support of the action.

“The country has relied on early childhood staff and full day programs home-based childcare and part-day programs to provide an essential service throughout the pandemic so that people can get back to work,” she told council members. 

“The COVID 19 pandemic has been extremely stressful for the early childhood teachers, and staff have provided in-person care since June of 2020. Not only have they put their own health at risk on a daily basis, they also knowingly put their families at risk as well. 

Credit: Stephen Andrews via Unsplash

“While many professionals were able to work from the safety of their homes, early childhood professionals provided hands-on, intimate care – even before there was a vaccine, recognizing the importance of in-person learning and care for the optimal development of our community’s most vulnerable individuals and as a support to families. 

“Due to the very limited resources of our early childhood programs. staff were not compensated commensurate with the risk they were asked to take.”

Vanderwarker also said, “Early childhood is one of the lowest paid professions. Direct funding to all early childhood programs for one-time contributions to retirement accounts, bonuses or for one-time investments is critical to sustaining the early childhood workforce.”

Debbie Boileve, Executive Director of Warren W. Cherry Preschool and a member of the Evanston Early Childhood Steering committee, noted that during the pandemic full day programs that serve low income families received State of Illinois restoration grants to help them remain open and pay their teachers. Part-day programs, however, did not qualify for the support.

“Excluding part-day program staff from a COVID-related bonus retention program at a time when many of us are losing staff to low wages, little or no benefits and difficult working conditions is sending a message to our programs and to our staff that their sacrifice doesn’t count,” she said, in her appeal to the council.

Council members voted unanimously in support of the proposal, passing it as part of their consent agenda.

With approval, staff will next open up an application process for the program and develop a recommendation for approval by the city’s Social Service Committee of the individual premiums pay amounts requested, Wingader said in her memo.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *