By Luisa Montes
Communications Analyst
YMCA Community Support Services

At nearly 80 years old, Joy Mclaurin may not be what you would expect of a child care provider. But talk to her for even one minute, and you realize she would never spend her days another way.

“I’d already retired, but I wasn’t ready to give up,” she said. “It’s such a reward to see the children grow up. You plant seeds in them.”

Ms. Joy, as she’s affectionately known to the families and child care providers who know her, has been operating Joy’s Home Daycare in Oceanside for 25 years – but nothing could have prepared her for this public health crisis.

When San Diego County schools shuttered in response to COVID-19, parents designated as essential workers by the State of California rushed to find child care facilities that could care for their children while they continued to go to work.

At the same time, child care providers pivoted quickly to follow new and evolving public health practices so they could continue to operate their facilities and provide an essential service in its own right.

Recognizing the unique pressure the first days of the crisis put on so many San Diego residents, San Diego for Every Child quickly launched the San Diego COVID-19 Children’s Fund. The fund provides micro-grants for eligible families to buy groceries, diapers, and child care services, and for child care providers needing financial assistance to pay for hygiene supplies and wages.

Through Jewish Family Service of San Diego, the fund is still accepting donations from the community to build on $500,000 in seed funding from Sara Jacobs and $100,000 from The San Diego Foundation’s COVID-19 Community Response Fund. To date, YMCA Childcare Resource Service and Child Development Associates have distributed more than $700,000 in funds to families and child care providers.

Ms. Joy was one of hundreds of child care providers who applied for funds, and she used her $100 micro-grant to buy food for the nutritious meals she cooks for the children and cleaning supplies to make sure her already-spotless facility adheres to public health guidelines.

Currently, Ms. Joy cares for three girls, the latest in a cohort of individuals whose lives have been impacted by Ms. Joy’s vocation. She is still in touch with many of her alumni, including one who went on to become an engineer in Missouri, and knows that her time with them is part of the recipe for success.

“This is not babysitting; it’s not TV and a nap,” she stressed. “This is home daycare with a learning and loving environment. I teach them their shapes, colors, and cutting with scissors just like they do in preschool.”

Ms. Joy’s passion for early childhood education is not unique. San Diego County has more than 3,500 licensed family child care homes, licensed child care businesses that operate out of homes and care for a mixed-age group of children in a family-like setting. In comparison, there are 979 licensed child care centers that provide care in a classroom-like setting.

In spite of their dedication, many of these family child care providers face significant challenges in running their businesses. Locally, the cost of operating a family child care home is nearly double the amount families can afford, so providers often prioritize the needs of their clients and will not increase prices even if it jeopardizes their own financial stability. As a result, the average take-home pay of a California family child care provider is just $9.76/hour, per the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. This figure is nearly $3 below California’s $12.00 minimum wage, and well below the living wage threshold for a single adult with one child.

Though child care providers play a crucial role in the development of young children, they are compensated significantly less than formal educators of school-age children. This amplifies the discussion about our society’s values and the price we put on caring for children during their most important years of brain development.

It’s up to us as a community to uplift these values and support our children’s earliest teachers. After a child’s parents, a child care provider is a key player in ensuring the child develops crucial skills, meets developmental milestones, and is set on a path to a successful life. This is a not a responsibility that Ms. Joy and her fellow family child care providers take lightly.

“People ask me when I’m going to stop so I have time for myself,” she says. “But I wake up every morning looking forward to being with the children. It’s my life’s purpose to see these children grow up.”