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Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera. Source: City of Lawrence website

“There are a ton of problems that we’re facing with COVID-19: public health, unemployment, education,” Mayor Dan Rivera said on a recent Strategies for Children Zoom call about his city, Lawrence, Mass.

One of those problems cropped up at the end of August, when police found a woman running an unlicensed child care program with 25 children in her apartment.

“We had to shut the place down,” Rivera says, “but this wasn’t an opportunity to arrest somebody or throw a huge fine at them. That to me would have been criminalizing poverty because most of the people that were bringing their kids there couldn’t afford to have child care or couldn’t find affordable safe child care.”

Back in August, Rivera said it would be better to educate parents and to talk to employers about their workers’ child care needs.

Rivera also found another solution to the problem: himself.

He asked Maria Gonzalez Moeller, CEO of The Community Group, a local nonprofit provider, how much it would cost to provide child care for 200 kids. Then he went to the Lawrence City Council and asked for $400,000 in emergency funds to finance child care scholarships. (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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“Kenya Bradshaw, vice president of an education company with 500 employees, said she started seeing an overwhelming number of female employees using up vacation days early on in the pandemic, and is now seeing them leave their jobs because of childcare issues.

” ‘Many of our women actually make more than their husbands, but they are the ones who are the lead childcare provider, so because of that, their families are also taking on some additional economic strain,’ she said. ‘These are middle class women I’m talking about in most cases.’

” ‘I’m concerned about the burden of low to moderate wage employees who don’t even have the flexibility to make that decision,’ added Bradshaw, who received thousands of replies when she posted about the topic on social media”

 

“Mothers in the workplace at a ‘tipping point’ amid the pandemic, childcare crisis,” Katie Kindelan, Good Morning America, October 1, 2020

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The results of a new poll from the First Five Years Fund are in:

“The Coronavirus pandemic has opened voters’ eyes to the importance of child care for families—and the economy. Now voters are ready for sweeping federal action,” the Fund explains on its poll fact sheet.

Among the poll’s findings:

• 84% of American voters say high-quality, affordable child care for families with young children is an essential service — just like healthcare and education

• 79% of voters say that the pandemic has made it clear to them how essential a strong child care system is for families who need it, and

• 77% of voters say that public funding for children’s education and care should start before kindergarten

“No longer can lawmakers and candidates for office view child care as a “nice-to-have” service, when voters now clearly see it as something that is essential for children, families, and America’s economy.”

Child care also has bipartisan appeal: (more…)

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Earlier this week, child care champions posted tweets to encourage Congress to #SaveChildCare.

 

 

(more…)

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Right after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, early childhood education (ECE) advocates were dealing with the immediate crisis and, simultaneously, talking about what the global health crisis would mean for the future.

“We wanted to create a space for that conversation,” Albert Wat, a senior policy director at the Alliance for Early Success, said on a recent Strategies for Children Zoom call.

“We met almost weekly for four months,” Wat says of the 13 states and eight national organizations who joined the conversation. Strategies for Children, an Alliance grantee, represented Massachusetts. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves to current fiscal and policy constraints.”

Instead the group talked about a “North star,” an untethered vision of what the country could do to rebuild child care.

“We wanted to be bold, but we also wanted to be pragmatic,” Wat said.

The result is “Build Stronger: A Child Care Policy Roadmap for Transforming Our Nation’s Child Care System.” (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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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

 

How are families doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Earlier this year, we created a survey to ask them. Many parents said they were struggling to juggle work, child care, and children who were attending school from home.

Last month, Strategies for Children followed up with another survey that found many parents were struggling to make child care arrangements for the fall. This survey was conducted by Beacon Research, a Boston-based polling firm, and funded by the Commonwealth Children’s Fund and Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation.

Hearing from parents is an essential step.

“Parent voices are critical to reopening and sustaining the child care industry,” Amy O’Leary, the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All Campaign, says. “This survey shows that parents have legitimate concerns over health and safety. Many parents cannot return to child care because their programs have closed permanently, are not yet reopened, or are at full enrollment.”

A press release and a slide deck summarize the survey’s results. This document lists the survey’s questions and tallies parents’ answers. And a memo focuses on the child care challenges for families with school-age children.

Among the survey’s key findings, parents’ fears have risen. Before the pandemic, 76 percent expected to use child care programs this fall. Since the pandemic, only 62 percent do. (more…)

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Jillian Phillips and her family. Photo courtesy of Jillian Phillips

 

Jillian Phillips is a working Massachusetts parent trying to navigate a pandemic. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job full of highs, lows, and a need for public policy innovations.

Phillips, a single parent by choice, has an 8-year-old daughter and twin sons who are 19 months old. Another daughter, who would be five years old, died in infancy.

Phillips had relied on her mother, a retired nurse, who lived with the family, to provide child care.

“If I hadn’t had my mom at the time, I certainly would not have gone on to have more children because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” Phillips says. “The cost of child care, especially in our state, is out of reach.”

Earlier this year, however, two tragedies struck. Phillips’ mother passed away unexpectedly, and the global pandemic exploded in the United States.

So Phillips had to manage her grief, take care of her children, and work full time. A social worker herself, she supervises social workers who provide early intervention services for families.

“I’ve found a rhythm, but I’m slowly drowning,” she says of her work, family, and personal responsibilities. “Thank goodness, my job is flexible. I can fit things in during the kids’ naps, after they go to bed, or before they wake up — which means I’m working all the time because there’s no other way to do it.” (more…)

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Stephen Zrike on Facebook Live

 

“Superintendents, principals, and city leaders have to think really differently about how we use our assets to serve kids in different ways.”

— Stephen Zrike, Superintendent of the Salem Public Schools

 

Last month, when the city of Salem, Mass., found out that it was in the “red” – meaning there had been more than 8 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over two weeks – Salem announced that all the grades in all its schools would start the school year by openly virtually.

This action prioritized safety – and it created a crisis for working parents for whom school is also child care.

So Salem Public Schools (SPS) came up with a creative solution: work with local partner organizations to run “Hub Extensions in our school buildings for groups of 13 students. These Hub Extensions will be licensed by The Department of Early Education and Care and those enrolled would be eligible for vouchers,” SPS says on its website.

That way instead of going empty and unused, school buildings would provide child care space for families and students who have the greatest needs.

“These Hubs will support remote learning during school-day hours and provide after school enrichment activities during afterschool time. All SPS cleaning and safety protocols will be followed.”

The community partners include the Salem YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem, and Camp Fire North Shore, a local afterschool program. (more…)

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