When I ponder my early childhood, I remember the love and safety I felt in my grandmother’s arms, a woman who also cared for other children. She owned her own family child care business, but she retired when I was a toddler. However, she continued caring for my oldest childhood friend, a little white girl whose mom needed to go back to work as a teacher. Her mom convinced my grandmother to again care for a young child when her sister was born 7 years later. Her mom trusted no one else to care for her infant child. Had they been asked at the time, my mom and my friend’s mom would have agreed that my grandmother’s care was high quality. But was it?
My grandmother had no formal education beyond high school. Her qualifications were that she raised three children, and like most women of her time, gladly watched other children when their families needed help. Nonetheless, her lack of education alone would limit her quality rating in the Quality Rating Improvement System, established some 30 years ago. Mostly driven, designed and influenced by highly educated white women, QRIS resulted in tools and a system that uplifted a eurocentric view of care, while diminishing the expertise and value of care that Black women had provided for centuries-first as enslaved caregivers, then domestic workers, and now as child care program owners, directors, teachers and assistants. If we were to depend on the traditional QRIS alone, most of us received our early care and education in low quality settings. While I think our families would disagree, QRIS takes into account few aspects families would use to define quality care. This results in the care mostly provided by Black, Indigenous, immigrant, multi-lingual and other women of color, and by default, home based care, being characterized as lacking quality.
QRIS, though good in its intentions, has caused much harm since its inception, driving many talented and skilled caregivers from the profession. Because the majority of care in the U.S. is provided by BIPOC women, the workforce is severely underpaid and undervalued. In turn, families have fewer options for child care that affirm their home language, culture, food, or even just their work schedules. When families chose my grandmother as their caregiver for their children, it was because she was warm and caring, provided homemade food, and provided care right in the neighborhood when they needed it most. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, and especially being able to talk with these parents and child care providers, quality is truly in the eye of the beholder.
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