To say these are trying times is an understatement. As we’re all doing our best to adjust to the new normal, I hope this finds you well.
As a physician, I’ve witnessed first-hand the extraordinary dedication of the health care professionals and support staff with whom I work. I’ve also watched so many in my community, the city of Chicago, and our nation come together for the greater good by social distancing, donating resources, checking on elderly neighbors, and so much more. This moment in time is, perhaps, a metaphor for how we need to think – and more importantly, act – to change our societal structures to better support all caregivers.
In the midst of a pandemic, the spotlight is on health care workers. And rightly so. The shortage of PPE, personal protective equipment, is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of COVID-19. The fact that we lack resources as basic as masks and gowns to protect our health care workers – the very people we’re relying on to take care of our sick – is unimaginable. But just as we are only as healthy as those who care for us, our nation’s children can only thrive when their parents have adequate access to resources and support. In both cases, we owe it to our caregivers to provide the resources and support they need to succeed in these most critical roles. We at the TMW Center are committed to continuing the important work of supporting families during this unprecedented time and are actively adapting our efforts and outreach to keep up with the ever-changing reality.
Even amid such uncertainty, I am buoyed by examples of kindness and good in the world. In my own life, a neighbor dropped off 2 boxes of N95 masks she found in her garage. A friend who owns a fabric store made thousands of masks. Families in my Hyde Park community are placing teddy bears in their front windows so parents of stir-crazy young children can turn going on a walk into going on a bear hunt. This list goes on and on, and it fills my heart.
There are glimmers of hope to be found by looking at history, as well. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, particularly about our nation’s response to WWII. Interestingly, some very inspiring work related to families and children grew out of this time. As it became necessary for women to join the workforce to support the war effort, the need for childcare became a priority. In 1942, with funding from the 1941 Defense Public Works law, the Lanham Act established the first federally-subsidized childcare system where all children, regardless of family income, qualified. By the end of the war, more than 550,000 children had attended Lanham-funded centers.
The program didn’t survive for a variety of reasons, but over the years, historians have pointed to lasting positive impacts. It was unique in its mission to address the needs of both children and mothers from all socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, there was a substantial increase in maternal employment for the women who participated, and documented positive outcomes in the children.
None of us know what it’s going to look like on the other side. My hope is that we come together to reflect not only on what we can do to be better prepared in times of crisis, but to view lessons learned through a broader lens to do better for our families each day. Just as we must protect the health of our nation’s health care providers, so must we nurture and support our nation’s parents. Our caregivers, all caregivers, deserve this.
Co-Director, TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health