By SUSAN HILL

In the United States, grandparents care for one in four children under the age of five. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered — perhaps permanently — countless child care centers, we know this number has grown. Many parents are left with no other option than to ask their own parents for help.

As a grandparent caretaker myself, I know how eager grandparents are to jump in. They do so, selflessly, day in and day out for their grandkids. But, it’s no easy task. So, this year, in honor of Grandparent’s Day on Sept.12, I recognize and applaud my fellow grandparents — particularly after the last year and a half when so many stepped in to care for kids as daycares closed.

My grandson is now nine years old. While he was fortunate to attend a quality, half-day child-care program several days a week since he was a toddler, I’ve been a significant caregiver in his life since he was born. When his teachers tell me of his social and emotional competence, his love of discovery and learning, or his academic success, I know his nurturing early education and care experiences are to credit.

As an early childhood educator with over 40 years of experience, I know the benefits of high-quality early learning. But, it’s been a unique privilege to witness the benefits through the eyes of a grandparent. And, it’s because of my experience as a grandparent caregiver that I have become so involved in advocating for accessible, high-quality and affordable early childhood education and care. Through my advocacy work, I’ve met so many other grandparent caregivers, and the work they do is remarkable.

One such grandparent is Sue, a local grandmother living in Whitewater. She often cares for her two young grandchildren so that her daughter, Lacy, can work. She helped her grandchildren learn to read, to sew, and is even teaching them to quilt! She is one example of a grandparent who is ensuring her grandkids have the best possible start in life while supporting her daughter. . Lacy explains, “My mother’s support with my young children helped me survive.”

There are countless stories like this, countless parents who could not survive without their own parents providing grandparent child care. But, what of all the families without such a support system. How are they surviving, particularly since the onset of COVID-19, a crisis exposing — and devastating — our already-weak child care infrastructure?

For years, we have been facing a child-care crisis, particularly in affordability and accessibility. Child care is outrageously expensive, often costing more than in-state college tuition. While more than half of our nation’s parents say they cannot afford to spend more than $200 per week on child care, the average cost of high-quality care is over $600 per week. With regard to accessibility, 51% of Coloradans lived in a child-care desert before the pandemic.

Hope on the horizon

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to support my daughter and grandson. But, grandparents can’t do it all, and certainly can’t do it forever. Parents shouldn’t have to seek out alternative care arrangements due to a lack of affordable and accessible options. Families and children deserve better. The good news is that child care is finally getting the attention it deserves — particularly in Washington. For example, President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill includes historic provisions for child care. It would significantly expand access to child care subsidies, ensuring no family spends more than 7% of their income on child care, all while investing in the child-care workforce. If passed, every child in our country, and in Colorado, would have access to high-quality and affordable early education.

Investing in children and families is an investment in not only our recovery from COVID-19, but also in our future. We must remember that kids are our future doctors, educators, electricians, legislators and even grandparents. They are the promise of our shared future, and deserve the best start in life.

Grandparents have played an important role in shaping this future, but we need support, as do all those families without grandparents. The Build Back Better Bill would provide it. This Grandparent’s Day, join me in urging legislators to support this bill. Our grandkids’ futures will shine all the brighter for it.

Susan Hill is a volunteer leader with Save the Children Action Network.