September 25, 2020

Elevating Urgent Needs of Young Dual Language Learners and Their Families During COVID-19

Everyone is feeling the impact of COVID-19 as the country grinds through yet another month of abnormalcy, with low-income and communities of color bearing the brunt the most. 

Working families of color are carrying a particularly heavy load—juggling work and child care responsibilities while gauging the extra risks of sending their kids back to early learning and care (ELC) settings. 

Data show the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, especially Black, Latinx, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander, and low-income populations—many of whom are linguistically diverse families. Their children, a great number of whom are dual language learners (DLLs), are inevitably suffering as their families work on the frontlines as essential workers, risking exposure to COVID-19 while trying to balance competing demands. 

This is a special challenge for California, home to the nation’s largest population of DLLs: young children who are developing proficiency in both their home language and English. This group makes up nearly 60 percent of California’s children under the age of 6. It is clear that without ensuring access to early learning and care designed for DLL children and families, the state is not meeting the basic needs of all children. 

With the profound financial impact of COVID-19, California now faces a $54.3 billion budget deficit for 2020 and 2021. The needs of the early childhood field are more dire than ever, and support for DLL children and families must be urgently addressed. We cannot allow the state’s health, economic, and fiscal crises derail our state’s commitment to equitable ELC for DLLs. 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate existing inequities to children’s full access and participation in high-quality ELC, in the immediate term, we recommend that state leaders: 

  1. Provide immediate financial support for home-based and center-based early educators who are adapting to the rapidly changing health and safety guidelines of COVID-19. Many are at grave risk of closing permanently under financial pressures driven by the pandemic. The state should guarantee that all programs (home-based and centers) receive their full share of public funding, even if they can only serve a reduced number of families due to COVID-19 restrictions on teacher-child ratios. A significant number of the youngest and most vulnerable populations of DLLs are served in home-based settings (Family, Friend, and Neighbor and Family Child Care Homes). The state must increase licensed home-based settings through targeted funding to trusted messengers such as Childcare Resource and Referral agencies and community-based organizations that are the backbone of sustaining the ELC field. 
  2. Equip early educators to support DLLs and their families in culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate ways during hybrid/distance learning. Until full reopening is possible, many children will spend significant time engaged in hybrid/distance learning. The state must ensure that early educators are equipped with the necessary tools and training to fully and authentically engage DLL families. This begins with providing equitable access to learning technologies and internet connectivity, and also including translated family communications and multilingual resources to support DLLs’ emerging bilingual development in hybrid/distance learning plans. 
  3. Prioritize the social-emotional health of DLL children, as well as families’ and early educators’ mental wellbeing. Many children have been living with the stress of regular precarity for over 6 months. Whether programs are able to open in person or in a hybrid/distance learning model, relationship building and socioemotional health of DLLs must be prioritized, particularly for children under the age of six. All 2020 state guidance should make this clear. Moreover, early educators must be supported with paid time and communities of support to manage their own mental health as they address the stresses facing many of the children in their programs. 

As we respond to our current state of emergency, DLLs should be brought to the center of policy decisions. By addressing these immediate needs, we will ensure that we are building a strong foundation for the majority of the state’s young children. The quality of education these children receive in the present will do much to determine the quality of California’s future workforce and economy. 

This blog is a part of a blog series in collaboration with Advancement Project California, Early Edge California, and the Sobrato Early Academic Language. For more information on our policy recommendations to address DLL children and families’ needs during COVID-19 and beyond, please click here: COVID-19 Rapid Response: Urgent Needs of Dual Language Learner Children and Families (APCA Link/EECA Link).