Equity in Child Care - is that Different from Equality?

Did you know that there was a difference between equity and equality?  Oftentimes, we conflate the two terms.  I think this is partly because equity is a newer term to the layperson, such as myself, in the discussion of fairness in society.

What is Equity?

The dictionary.com definition is “something that is fair or just” or “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality.”

Talking about equity in your community might look something like this: 

Jake is 4, lives in a middle class home with two parents working full-time.  While it is difficult for Jake’s parents to afford, he attends a private child care/preschool which has a planned learning calendar and a child development philosophy the provider follows with a goal for children in her care to be kindergarten ready.

Justin is also 4 in the same middle class community with a single mom who works full-time.  Justin’s mom can’t afford child care so Justin’s mom has hobbled together a child care patchwork which includes teenage neighbors and her mom.  While loved and safe in the care of his grandma and neighbors, Justin is not being exposed to language, literacy and math to ensure he will be kindergarten ready.

When these two boys enter kindergarten – they are not entering at the same level because their parent’s financial resources and therefore their pre-k experiences were vastly different.  Looking at their entrance into the kindergarten system with an “equity lens,” which is understanding that Justin will require additional services and support to achieve success, is imperative to get to create a classroom environment in which both boys can succeed.

It’s at this point that we can address equality.

What Does Equality Mean?

“Equality aims to ensure everyone gets the same things.  Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.” (NoDerivs 2.5 Canada)

Let’s think about Jake and Justin again for a moment.  We know that Jake and Justin are not starting from the same place in their kindergarten classroom (equity) so if you gave them both the same book, with the same instruction/support and the same length of time to address the lesson – focusing only on equality - sets Justin up for failure because he’s different than Jake and needs to be treated differently in order to be equal.

Equity and Equality on the Grand Scale

The larger conversation of achieving a fair and just society through equity AND equality is to remove the barriers to Justin’s success BEFORE he enters kindergarten.  Exploring the child care landscape with an equity lens enables us to advocate for policy and best practices to make systemic changes so the Justin’s and the Jake’s of the world start kindergarten at the same level and providing them with equal resources will be enough for success – for both of them.

Another way to think of it: “equity is the means, equality is the outcome.”

Applying an Equity Lens to the Child Care Setting

Now we’ve had a refresher of the difference between equity and equality, we’ve explored what that might look like at the community level for some families with different economic circumstances and child care/preschool options and considered the value of using the equity lens to advocate for a more fair and just child care system. 

Are you excited to apply the equity lens to child care?  Awesome.  You know what’s even better?  The work has been done for you.  Recently published in The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, the article Applying an Equity Lens to the Child Care Setting, establishes a picture of the child care system to help us all talk about child care in terms of equity.

The article paints a picture of the child care landscape, discusses health inequities, funding challenges, workforce challenges and then does a deep dive into a specific example, Indian Country, to show importance of considering inequities when servicing communities.

The article is short, data-driven and honest as it shows us how under-resourced the child care and early childhood education community.  It provides specific information to help advocates talk about topics that are sometimes hard to explain such as workforce and funding challenges.  The article also effectively displays the disservice done when trying to provide resources to communities without considering the cultural and economic context of those we’re servicing – using our equity lens.


Dictionary.com - Definition of Equity.  Website accessed 5/22/17.  http://www.dictionary.com/browse/equity?s=t

Distinguish between equality and equity.  SGBA e-learning Resource: Rising to the Challenge. accessed 5/22/17.  http://sgba-resource.ca/en/concepts/equity/distinguish-between-equity-and-equality/

Scott, Krista et al.  Applying an Equity Lens to the Child Care Setting.  The Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 45 s1 (2017.):77-81.  Accessed 5/22/2017  http://www.aslme.org/media/downloadable/files/links/1/8/18.Scott_SUPP.pdf



Samantha Marshall, M.A.

Samantha is, just like you, excited to make a difference in our community and our world. With a Master of Arts degree in English Literature, you might ask how she found herself building and writing for a website focused on child care. From 1995 through 2001, Samantha started her career working for Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) sponsors which introduced her to the importance of non-profits, community and quality child care. Her experience with Sponsors, State Officials, and Family Child Care Providers left a great and lasting impression. Later in her career and her most recent position at SAGE Publications, an academic publisher, was as a product manager for a new online resource! During this time many of Samantha's passions collided. A love for the written word, children and the proliferation of knowledge as well as a fascination with the resources the internet gives us, building a community for child care on ChildCareInfo.com is the perfect way to make the difference she wanted to. Needless to say, she is very excited to be an active part of creating and building ChildCareInfo.com.