Who's taking care of your kids on Father's Day?

Who's taking care of your kids on Father's Day?
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Another holiday is coming — Father’s Day, which was founded in Spokane, Washington, in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd in honor of her father, a Civil War veteran who raised six children as a single parent. 

Raising children in America is hard. We are the gold standard for many things, and new polling data suggest other nations respect us these days even more than before

But there is one area where we fall horrifically short: child care. From early childhood programs to day care centers, from abuse and neglect to basic nutrition, America’s kids are falling through the cracks in a non-existent system that makes raising a family here a Herculean task. At a time of year when we celebrate mothers and fathers, we should be asking: Why is it so hard to be a parent in America?

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Take one study in which authors examined 30 trusted international sources to create a “Raising a Family Index” and found that the United States was the second-worst out of 35 industrialized countries as a place for families. We ranked behind Bulgaria and Chile. 

Unlike Europe, we have disparate and disorganized approaches that leave kids vulnerable from birth on. Recent data show that a child is abused or neglected every 48 seconds in America. Foster care is inadequate, parental drug abuse high and nutrition lacking for many kids. Child care workers are underpaid and disrespected. 

All of this was made worse by a pandemic that decimated the child care industry and left millions of working parents caring for children at home. Despite child tax credits and assistance, without good child care options the return-to-work effort will stall. According to research highlighted in a recent column in The Hill, “of all women living with dependent children before the pandemic, one-in-four (9.4 million) stayed out of the labor market either by preference, disability, or because child care costs were deemed too expensive to make a venture into the world of paid labor worthwhile.”

Unlike most other developed countries, the United States has never, with the exception of a few years during World War II, treated child care as a serious national crisis. That must change. 

Child care is a bipartisan issue. Many bills have passed with support from both sides of the political aisle. Individual states are introducing promising legislation. This week in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerReporter: FBI involvement in Whitmer plot similar to sting operations targeting Islamic extremists Former Detroit police chief takes step toward gubernatorial run Whitmer has raised .5 million so far in 2021 MORE announced a plan to invest $1.4 billion in federal funding to expand access to child care, make it more affordable and support child care professionals.  

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Starting in July, may parents will receive part of the child tax credit in installments of $250 or $300 each month through the end of the year thanks to the American Rescue Plan. That will help.

But what is needed most is a comprehensive approach for 2022: a bipartisan commission on child care; an increase in wages for child care workers; a re-evaluation of childcare goals, centers and funding, especially for working parents; and renewed respect for the essential workers who care for our kids.

And we must address poverty. Much of the problem plaguing child care has to do with money. Using data from a range of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI, a 2019 study by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion firm, created an index of four measures (preschool enrollment, high school graduation, property crime and access to places for physical activity) to identify the worst cities in which to raise children. Of the 25 worst cities to raise children, 21 have a higher poverty rate than the national rate of 13.4 percent. 

While we debate infrastructure and argue over immigration, our kids are calling out for help. Let’s make America #1 in caring for children. If we get this right, so much else that is wrong will change.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.