Childcare accessibility is one of the major hurdles that directly influences women’s economic security, particularly for Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and other women and families of color. Even prior to the onset of COVID-19, the obstacles to secure accessible, affordable, and flexible childcare played a huge role in limiting the ability for working women to take on full-time roles – or kept them out of the workforce altogether. Women serve multiple roles – breadwinners, caretakers, and essential drivers of our nation’s economy – and they should not have to decide between their livelihood and their health, their family, or their safety. Yet far too many women and families, particularly women and families of color, must make this decision every day. 

As early childhood educators and advocates, we recognize the decisions that families make every day in the face of statewide policies and institutional barriers.  At the Sprout School, we work alongside and witness the daily resilience of women and families in our community.  Here is one of the many stories of uplift, trust, and community care that we experience every day:

“Care, resilience, compassion and family are just a few words I can think of when it comes to the Sprout School. My daughter started at the Sprout School in 2016. I was nervous about placing her in a new facility and I was extra about everything! I even made her a nametag with her likes and dislikes on it. Two weeks after she started at the Sprout School, Ms. K_, one of the teachers, called to tell me that my daughter had a fever and I had to pick her up. When I arrived, Ms. K_ was sitting in a chair in the doorway of the class holding my relaxed and comfortable baby in her arms. I knew right then and there we had found the perfect childcare facility.

“When I had my son in 2017, I was so eager for him to start the Sprout School that l had the application filled out by the time I left the hospital. By 2018, both kids were enrolled in the Sprout School, which allowed me to secure full-time employment. It felt as if everything was going perfectly and then I started dating the wrong person. I confided in Ms. E_ about the situation, which led to her referring me to the YWCA. I had no idea that the YWCA had so many resources, from monetary assistance to getting access to food banks. The assistance that I received, not only from the YWCA but from the Sprout School, helped me to leave the situation and not look back.

“The Sprout School staff had grown into family and I wanted to show my gratitude in any way I could. I assisted with field trips, classroom time, and events until COVID messed things up. Two weeks after the U.S. shut down, my children and I all tested positive. The outpouring of support and love we received from the Sprout School was staggering. We received virtual calls with teachers, virtual book readings with Ms. E_, and the children were able to see their friends via camera! My children didn’t miss a beat.

“This is my son’s last year at the Sprout School. We do not want to leave this program! The foundation the Sprout School has laid for both of my children is amazing. Most people that talk to my children are impressed by the way they speak and by how they put ideas together. There’s no way I could pay back the Sprout School for all of the great things it has done for my family. My plan is to give back in any way I can. Until then, I will always refer the Sprout School to anyone who is looking for childcare. The staff went above and beyond to show that they cared for and loved my family.”

High-quality childcare access is essential for our young children, working families, and our region’s economic future.  At YWCA Richmond, we believe that all children deserve access to the path toward educational success.  To make that path more equitable, we must address the challenge of affordable, high quality childcare access.  In May 2022, the City of Richmond announced grants for seven childcare and preschool organizations, including a $300,000 grant for the Sprout School.  This grant will help the Sprout School double its enrollment and open a new third location at Second Presbyterian Church on 5 N 5th Street. Investments in childcare access bring us closer to our call to eliminate racism, empower woman, and transform communities into thriving neighborhoods.   

*This story is told by Aria Hill, a Sprout School parent, in collaboration with Kisha Hughes, a Richmond-based writer.