The Early Childhood Community Emerges Ready to Lead - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Lauren Moriguchi

Lauren Moriguchi is director of the State of Hawaii Executive Office on Early Learning. She has been working in the education system, with a focus on early learning for most of her career.

Cathy Betts

Cathy Betts is director of the Hawaii Department of Human Services. Prior to DHS, Betts was the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

When we read Civil Beat’s article about a decrease in preschool enrollment, we noticed a clear omission of the unsung heroes in the early childhood community. Conversations about school reopening consume the nation while every day child care and early learning providers welcome our youngest learners with open arms. Yet, nobody is talking about this heroic feat.

Child care and early learning providers have largely avoided on-campus transmission of COVID-19. This has not come without costs. Providers have invested even longer hours, significant financial resources and more staffing to keep children, families and employees safe.

They have done this while operating on razor-thin budget margins and with professionals who are historically undervalued in pay and prestige.

It’s time we recognize the leadership of the early childhood community.

Because our agencies (the state’s Executive Office on Early Learning and Department of Human Services) coordinate and oversee parts of the sector, we have witnessed how the early childhood community has responded to this pandemic. We could not be prouder to work alongside such resilient, ingenious and dedicated professionals. They have achieved success in the face of tremendous challenges and pressure.

While the pandemic has torn apart relationships in other sectors, we have seen early childhood community members forge bonds that are stronger than ever.

At the ground level, providers have found ways to stay open or reopen. Child care providers have always been deemed essential businesses. Many providers remained open to care for the children of essential workers.

St. Ann School with masked early learning students during in person class during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teachers and child care providers who are members of the early childhood community have found ways to stay open or reopen throughout the pandemic; here, early learning students at St. Ann School. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

By the end of May last year, child care providers were allowed to care for children of non-essential workers. Most child care and early learning providers reopened over the summer. By now, approximately 85% of regulated providers have resumed caring for children.

As noted, transmission on campus and in the classrooms has been minimal. DHS worked with other agencies, including EOEL and DOH, legislators and child care providers themselves to develop reopening guidelines. These guidelines prioritize keeping children and staff healthy, making it feasible for providers to stay open.

The guidelines are the result of a true community effort because we knew that the best way to weather this pandemic was by working together. DHS collaborated to administer grants and contracts to child care providers. DHS issued $2.1 million and also partnered with the Hawaii Community Foundation to get an additional $11.3 million directly to child care providers to offset increased costs due to the pandemic.

DHS also applied for waivers for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. In practical terms, these waivers provided money to more families to help pay for child care tuition, with nearly a 300% increase of subsidies paid from July through December 2020 over the prior year.

Again, DHS did not do this alone. They worked alongside EOEL and community partners to spread word about the lowered barriers and increased support for child care costs.

EOEL also prioritized in-person learning for children across the state through its EOEL Public Prekindergarten Program. Working with our DOE partners, we have welcomed children into our 30+ classrooms since August.

Although we are proud of what the State has done to support families and the sector, we’re most proud of the community partners, providers and educators.

If you ask our community, you’ll hear countless stories of non-profit organizations stepping up. In the early days of the pandemic, PATCH organized access to cleaning supplies for providers and connected essential workers to available child care. Family Hui organized food and diaper drives. Hawaii Children’s Action Network organized advocacy efforts to prioritize the sector for vaccinations. Many organizations have stepped up for and with the early childhood community; we simply can’t list them all.

Then of course, there are the early care and education providers who show up every single day to care for children. They nurture our youngest learners and support our school-age learners to help them stay on track.

Ask any one of these amazing partners and providers why they do it, and they’ll tell you it’s for our children and their families. There have certainly been missteps. But because our purpose is clear, we push forward together.

The State Legislature has charged us with expanding access to early learning over the next decade. We hope that out of the ashes of this horrific pandemic, the strong relationships we have forged will allow us to realize their vision that every child can be nurtured and learn before entering kindergarten. We also hope that decision-makers start looking to early childhood professionals as experts who can help lead us forward.

Because in the end, don’t we all have the same purpose? We don’t do it for the glory. We do it for the children and their families.

When Hawaii thinks about early childhood, we want people to think about leaders who put young children, families and stronger communities first, every single day.

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About the Authors

Lauren Moriguchi

Lauren Moriguchi is director of the State of Hawaii Executive Office on Early Learning. She has been working in the education system, with a focus on early learning for most of her career.

Cathy Betts

Cathy Betts is director of the Hawaii Department of Human Services. Prior to DHS, Betts was the executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

Latest Comments (0)

Yes! I appreciate more and more are viewing early care and education as a public good. It's a specialized field deserving of a lot more respect, and the workers/workforce should be viewed and treated as such.

jordy · 2 years ago

Congratulations and thank you!  Though not often acknowledged, this entire sector is key to Hawaii's economic development, as well as providing services to children and families.

JanetMason · 2 years ago

  Our society would better function if it subsidized childcare for all those under 5 like it does for all those over 5. Childcare is a necessity for many parents who want to work.

CATipton · 2 years ago

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