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“COVID-19 revealed to the entire country what the early education and care field has known for years: Childcare is the backbone of our economy,” a new report says.

Unfortunately, that backbone is badly broken.

The report – “Boston’s Child-Care Supply Crisis: What a Pandemic Reveals” – was released by The Boston Opportunity Agenda and the Boston Birth to Eight Collaborative. The report’s findings were shared this week in a webinar that included Amy O’Leary, the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign. A recording of the webinar is posted here.

The report highlights Boston’s shrinking supply of child care, a decrease that began long before the pandemic. Between 2017 and March 2020, the city “experienced a net loss of 3 percent of its licensed child-care seats for children 0–5 years old,” the report says. This loss worse in individual neighborhoods, including a 14 percent loss in Dorchester and a 15 percent loss in East Boston.

Add the pandemic in, and this loss is staggering. “Between December 2017 and September 2020, the loss at the city level was estimated at 16 percent.” At the neighborhood level, “East Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park and Roxbury lost, respectively, 33.5 percent, 24 percent, 18 percent, and 17 percent in that period.” (more…)

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The big picture: Child care is denting the workforce, preventing a huge swath of Americans from contributing to their firms and to the economy at large. To chip away at the problem, and protect their bottom lines, employers are bulking up child care benefits for workers.

By the numbers:

• Working parents — who make up about a third of the U.S. workforce — are losing an average of eight hours per week due to child care responsibilities during the pandemic, per Northeastern University research.

• Even before the pandemic, inadequate child care was costing working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity, according to Care.com’s data.

What’s happening: Companies across states and industries are bolstering existing benefits and adding new, creative ones to help their employees with kids.

New services: Citigroup is offering discounted test prep and tutoring to employees with school-age kids, reports Fortune.

Making connections: Home Depot and Dell have established support groups for working parents to swap tips or just vent.

Good, old cash: Many working parents are saying the best benefit is simply money, which gives them the flexibility to seek out the specific type of child care that makes sense for them. Bank of America and Deloitte, among other firms, are offering up to $100 a day in child care reimbursements during the pandemic.”

 

“The business case for child care,” by Erica Pandey, Axios, November 10, 2020

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Screenshot: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

 

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has just published an important article about COVID-19’s impact on child care.

“When the crisis started, some experts hoped it was a wake-up call for policymakers about the importance of accessible and affordable child care to a fully functioning economy,” the article, written by Jay Lindsay, says.

But as the article’s title — “Future of child care sector shakier than ever, a half year into pandemic” – points out, child care is still on treacherous ground.

“To better understand what’s behind and ahead, Beth Mattingly of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston teamed up with Jess Carson from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire to address the pandemic’s impact on this vulnerable sector,” the article explains.

In an article they posted this summer, Mattingly and Carson point out that child care programs were already stretched thin before the pandemic:

“This dichotomy of high costs for families and low wages for workers derives from child care being a mostly private-pay system with limited public contributions. One outcome is high turnover as employees seek higher pay outside the industry, often in the public school system. Child care sits in stark contrast to publicly funded education, where teachers are paid significantly more than child care workers, have greater job security, and are typically offered benefits such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and retirement plans.” (more…)

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Source: Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women

 

COVID-19 is taking a huge economic toll on women.

The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (MCSW) explains how in a new report, “Child Care and Education During COVID-19: A Report on the Economic and Social Impact on Women in Massachusetts.”

“We are hearing about – and many of us are experiencing – intense stress related to the impossible task of simultaneously working and providing care,” commission chairwoman Denella Clark says in a press release. “It is time that we as a Commonwealth understand that early education, care, and school are essential components to families’ economic stability and the state’s economy.” Clark explains more in this Legislative briefing video.

To write the report, the commission drew on testimony delivered during a virtual hearing as well as on a survey that collected 4,000 responses from residents across Massachusetts.

“The last five months have been insane,” a Somerville resident said on the survey. “So many women in my community are at the end of their rope; they’ve had to quit jobs they love or that their families need to survive because it’s been too tough to find childcare.” (more…)

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On streets across America, every night at around 6 p.m., child care programs shut their doors for the day — shutting out working parents who need late-night or early-morning child care programs.

It’s a problem that has grown more vivid as the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the fragility of the country’s child care systems. 

“In a resource-starved child care system, very few licensed child care providers can serve the child care needs of parents with schedules outside the old, standard, 9-to-5 business day,” Sandra Teixeira of the nonprofit organization New England United for Justice says in a new video.

The result, Teixeira says, parents get shut out of nighttime, weekend, and other off-hour jobs. 

That’s why a group of nonprofit organizations and labor unions convened by Community Labor United have launched a new initiative called Care that Works to transform child care delivery in Massachusetts.

The first step:

The “union-backed coalition, with help from the city of Boston, is launching a pilot program to provide childcare in the early morning, for workers in industries like construction that do not have standard work hours,” CommonWealth magazine reports. (more…)

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How hard has COVID-19 hit child care providers?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation decided to ask them.

The chamber interviewed 18 providers – “from large, for-profit centers to local nonprofit organizations to home-based providers” — about the impact of the pandemic and about the future.

Providers’ answers are in a new report, “Childcare: An Essential Industry for Economic Recovery,” which is part of the chamber’s ongoing analysis of early education and child care and their impact on the economy.

The report points to three common challenges:

• meeting needs while balancing costs

Providers “are dedicated to providing childcare services. However, decreased enrollment and increased costs have left most providers, both for-profit and nonprofit, in an unsustainable financial situation.”

• managing health risks

“The top priority for providers is understanding how to safely care for young children, understanding that a COVID-19 diagnosis is seemingly inevitable in several geographies, even with the utmost precautions.”

• addressing the interconnected nature of child care

“Childcare is closely tied to — and affected by — how parents return to work and how students return to school. However, many childcare providers are not being included in key discussions with their local school districts or business communities.” (more…)

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Two national surveys on life during the pandemic are painting pictures of how parents and child care providers are coping.

One initial survey comes from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has “launched a new longitudinal study to understand how lack of childcare is affecting working parents” whose children are younger than six, a survey report explains.

The chamber has divided its findings into two categories: “(1) Common Experience, and (2) Childcare Equation and Returning to Work.”

Two of the “common experiences:” more parents are working remotely, and more children are staying at home – although race and class skew these findings. Remote work, for example, is “more commonly afforded to high-income (73%) and white (54%) parents. Comparatively, only 24% of low-income parents, 40% of Black parents, and 34% of Hispanic or Latino parents are working remotely.”

In the second category of findings — “Childcare Equation and Returning to Work” – the chamber has found substantial challenges.

Long before COVID-19, parents created their “Childcare Equation,” the report says, deciding how much child care they needed. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, “parents have been forced to drastically adjust their equation.” Parents have set up short-term, “unsustainable childcare arrangements,” and they wonder “if they will be able to return to work at all.” (more…)

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“ ‘The childcare crisis is not new. The need for paid family and medical leave is not new. The need for protections for caregivers and for parents and for pregnant workers is not new. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to raise awareness about these issues,’ says Sarah Brafman, Senior Policy Counsel at A Better Balance, which advocates for policies to help working families. ‘But we have a moment where we do have a global crisis, and this is an opportunity to address the failings of our past.’ ”

“Indeed, childcare is an issue that, while crucial for families, should be important to anyone who wants to see the American economy made whole again. ‘If they really want to help people get back to work, they have to figure out how to safely create spaces where children can stay,’ says Emily James, an English teacher at a Brooklyn, New York high school. James lives in the Bronx with her husband and daughters, ages 5 and 7. Prior to the pandemic, James says, her husband worked nights, starting at 4 a.m. ‘We basically just switched off because we had opposite schedules — we would tag off, dump them off to each other. Or we would have a babysitter for an hour or so in between, if we could.‘ These days, they’re both home, because he’s on leave due to a health condition, but that hasn’t made balancing work with caring for the kids any easier. ‘From 8:00 in the morning until 1:00 p.m., my kids would be next to me while I was teaching my students.’ ”

 

“Coronavirus Has Finally Put A Spotlight On America’s Childcare Crisis. What Happens Now?” by Cait Munro, Refinery29, July 15, 2020

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“At the family child care center she runs out of her Dorchester home, Dottie Williams has started asking parents to send teddy bears along with their kids.

“Ms. Dottie’s NeighborSchool serves children between five months and four years old, an age range for which Williams said touch is an important way of bonding. To translate the ritual of a hug to the COVID-19 era, she now asks the kids to hug their own teddy bear while she hugs hers.

“ ‘Children are very, very creative, and when you’re creative with them, they can adjust,’ Williams told lawmakers Tuesday.

“As advocates and child care providers continue to call for an infusion of public funds to help the industry cope with added costs and lost revenue associated with providing care during a pandemic, stuffed animal-facilitated hugs are among several short-term adjustments speakers highlighted during the Education Committee’s virtual oversight hearing.”

 

“COVID-19 forcing innovation at child care centers: Ripple effects linger as key industry is strained,” by Katie Lannan, State House News Service story in The Salem News, Jul 7, 2020

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“The critical role that childcare plays in society has never been more apparent. But as decisions get made about reopening guidelines and adult-child ratios, are we forgetting the rights of children and of those who care for them? (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

 

Massachusetts’ legislators are listening, so please share your experiences.

Last week, the state’s Joint Committee on Education held part one of a virtual hearing on early education and care during the COVID-19 emergency. A video of that hearing is posted here.

Tomorrow — Tuesday, July 7, 2020 — the committee will hold part two.

You can join in by emailing written testimony through tomorrow at 5 p.m. to both of the committee’s chairs. Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) can be reached at Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov. And the email address for Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) is Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov.

It’s crucial to tell state legislators about the challenges that early educator and care providers will face as they reopen their programs. And, sadly, it’s also important to discuss that fact that some programs will not be financially able to reopen.

“Over the last two weeks, we have heard heartbreaking stories from directors and family child care of providers who are borrowing from their reserves in the hope of a child care bailout that may never come,” Amy O’Leary wrote in the testimony she shared at last week’s hearing. O’Leary is the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign. (more…)

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