The Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (OECOSL) is a critical partner for Child Care Answers’ work. We’re thrilled this month to welcome Beth Steward, child care quality specialist at OECOSL. Read below to learn more about her experience and how the State is shaping child care.
What is your early childhood education background?
I have always loved helping children. My mom talks about how my kindergarten teacher gave me a few children to work with. That helpd me cope with missing her while I was at school. Helping those friends made me happy and was the only thing that stopped me from crying!
I began my career with early childhood in high school at a local child care center. My best friend and I worked together in the two-year-old classroom. From there, I began helping a woman I had babysat for to watch her friend’s children. I helped as she grew from an exempt program to a class II family child care provider with multiple sites. When I went to college, I went back to the center world and worked at the child care center on campus. I ended up staying there well beyond obtaining my degree.
I studied to become an elementary education teacher with a concentration in special education but quickly learned that my heart was in early childhood. After graduation, I applied for and accepted a position as a lead teacher and stayed there an additional 15.5 years. During that time, I earned a master’s degree in early childhood education and received a certificate of school law. I joined the State in November 2021.
What inspires you to continue your work in the early childhood education field?
Working on a college campus gave me an incredible opportunity to work with families from all walks of life. I was able to support families who were made of students, professors, doctors, and university support staff. These families spanned income levels and counties of residence. I helped families navigate learning new languages or applying for financial aid. Some were living on their own for the first time. Others were shuffling the responsibilities of having two parents working in the medical field. These experiences and many more taught me that ALL families need support. I learned that there is not one way to navigate being a family. I knew I was making a big impact in my families’ lives, but I felt like there was more I could do.
Similarly, as I was living the experience of being a provider in Indiana, I was watching my co-workers live this same experience. I knew first-hand of the struggles we faced economically and the pressures of meeting regulations and standards while trying to provide the best care and education for the children in my classroom. I often talked about not really understanding the child care system and wanting to do something that could make change. That drove me to learn more about early childhood education in Indiana. I dove into learning about the state system and that led me to OECOSL.
All that is to say I am inspired by the families whom I supported through the early years, the families walking that path now, and the providers past and present that I have worked alongside. I want to have a hand in uplifting and helping to create a better system for present and future people walking these paths.
What work are you most proud of that OECOSL is doing right now?
There is so much coming out of the Office right now and in the future, but the thing I am most proud of is something that is happening behind the scenes. We have committed to reviewing our processes, procedures, and programs through an equity lens. We are taking a deep look at ways that people have been systemically left out and are working to make changes to fix this. I am proud to be a part of a team of people who are willing to talk about the hard and uncomfortable things in order to make a difference for those that we serve.
What are some of the biggest barriers you see for child care professionals? For families?
The barrier I hear about most often across both audiences is money. Child care is expensive all the way around. Costs for start-up, continued quality, nutritious food, and staffing add up rather quickly. To have a sustainable business, providers need to charge rates that cover all the expenses, as well as set aside for unexpected costs. While some families qualify for assistance with child care costs, this assistance may not cover the full cost of tuition. Additionally, there are many families who are ineligible for assistance that are faced with difficult decisions of how to find safe care for their children.
What action steps can communities and businesses take to improve child care quality, access, and affordability in central Indiana?
It is vital for communities and businesses to take time to learn how the child care system works and where they fit into the system. Child care is not a family issue – it truly is a business issue. Businesses need employees to be successful and those employees often need child care. Without access to safe, affordable, high-quality environments for their children, employees are less productive. Communities need successful businesses to thrive. Additionally, children are the future of a community. Investing in child care is an investment in the continued success and elevation of your community. I would encourage everyone to visit the Brighter Futures Data Center to learn more about the need for childcare in their community.