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“The strength of Massachusetts is its families. And they sorely need our help. Our state has some of the highest child care costs in the country. Our care workers don’t make a livable wage.

“So today, let us pledge to be the first state to solve the child care crisis. Let’s finally pass legislation in line with Common Start to make sure every family pays what they can afford, and that care workers are paid what they deserve. This is something our families, workers, and businesses all agree on.”

“Read Gov. Maura Healey’s inaugural speech,” WBUR Newsroom, January 05, 2023

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Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj

Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj

“In Amherst, I had the chance to volunteer with young children, and that changed my life,” Krongkan “Cherry” Bovornkeeratiroj, an intern at Strategies for Children (SFC), told us in a recent interview. 

This story started six years ago when Cherry moved from Thailand, where she worked as a financial auditor, to Amherst, Mass., where her husband is a graduate student — and where she volunteered to work in a preschool program. 

Cherry was used to the more formal educational approach that she had experienced in Thailand. Amherst was different.

“Our school system focuses heavily on academics and rarely teaches us to speak for ourselves. Most of the time we listen and listen.”

“The first day I walked into the classroom in Amherst, I saw kids enjoying activities. There were no chairs in rows.”

It was a high-quality program where children’s feedback was valued. For example, in the case of one child bumping into another, teachers would ask what the harmed child needed: a hug, an apology, an ice pack? 

 “Instead of lecturing, teachers asked students questions and encouraged them to think critically,” Cherry says.

This volunteer experience prompted her to apply to graduate school.

“But when I was admitted, I found out I was pregnant.” And the pandemic hit. So Cherry waited for a couple of years, then she enrolled in the Master of Arts (MA) in Leadership, Policy & Advocacy for Early Childhood Well-Being program at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

“Once I shared my passions with my academic advisor, she told me to talk to Amy,” Cherry says of Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Children’s executive director.

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poll photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

The results are in!

A new statewide poll sponsored by the Common Start Coalition has found that “73 percent of the state’s voters” back “the Common Start proposal to create a universal childcare program in Massachusetts.” Only 18 percent of respondents oppose the idea.

“Support is up nearly 10 points from two years ago, when the corresponding margin on this question was 64%-23%,” according to a memo from Beacon Research, the organization that conducted the poll.

The poll was conducted last month and surveyed 817 Massachusetts voters.

Most of these voters acknowledge three facts that are driving “the push to create a universal childcare program:”

• too many families can’t afford the high cost of child care

• child care workers are significantly underpaid, and

• state government should play a role in addressing these challenges

The poll also found that 58 percent of respondents favor “increasing taxpayer funding for childcare programs in Massachusetts,” a jump up from two years ago when 48 percent of respondents supported this idea.

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“In an effort to recruit and retain staff amid a national workforce shortage, the University of Vermont Health Network has broken ground on a second new apartment building for employees — a project that will also include a child care center for staff. 

“ ‘To do what we need to do to fill our vacant positions with permanent employees, rather than our more expensive, temporary workers, we really need to have more housing,’ said Sunil ‘Sunny’ Eappen, the network’s new president and chief executive officer, at a press conference in South Burlington on Thursday.

“Despite receiving $55 million in one-time federal and state funds to cover pandemic-related expenses, UVM Health Network ended its fiscal year on Sept. 30 with a $90 million loss that officials attributed primarily to staffing costs. Like hospitals across the country, UVM facilities relied heavily on temporary workers while staffing waned during the pandemic.”

“The second new apartment building will be located next to the first and will have 120 units ranging from studios to two bedrooms, again with priority given to hospital employees for the first 10 years. The site is also set to include a child care center with initial capacity for up to 75 children, focused on infants to pre-K. That building is expected to open in early 2024.

“Rebecca ‘Becky’ Kapsalis, associate vice president of talent acquisition for UVM Health Network, said it has been disappointing and frustrating to see how many prospective hires are declining offers because of their inability to find housing or quality child care. Kapsalis said some employees have even had to resign within months of being hired because of their inability to find long-term housing.

“Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, said Thursday that 8,700 children across Vermont need child care. Parents who have found child care are paying 30% to 40% of their income, and yet early educators aren’t making a livable wage. 

“ ‘The only way to fix it is public policy change and public investment, because it’s a broken business model,’ Richards said.”

“UVM Health Network investing in additional 120-apartment building with child care center,” by Juliet Schulman-Hall, VTDigger, December 15, 2022

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Who should be talking about child care? Parents, providers, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. 

All three of these groups know that high-quality child care is essential for families and for the economy.

So please join in tomorrow (Wednesday, December 14, 2022) at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom for a conversation about parents’ and caregivers’ perspectives on child care solutions. 

Hosted by the Massachusetts Essentials for Childhood Initiative and Strategies for Children, this event will feature Sarah Savage, a senior policy analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who will share preliminary findings from the Fed’s “2022 Child Care Survey: Intersections of Parental Care Needs and Work in New England.”

The event will also include small group discussions where participants can discuss unmet needs, priorities, and solutions.

Parents, of course, are experts, especially when it comes to child care needs that they can’t fill. As one Mom who wanted to work a second job explains in a Federal Reserve video (posted above), “I needed a night job to keep up with the bills.” But she would have needed child care at night, and “There’s no such thing as night care. It’s tough when you need the care and it’s not available.” 

Sharing these valuable perspectives is crucial for making progress. To make the event more inclusive, Spanish and Portuguese interpreters will be available. And invitations to the event written in different languages are posted here.

Please sign up and join the conversation – and share this information with families and colleagues in your network. 

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This fall, Strategies for Children has convened meetings of The Early Childhood Agenda, bringing together nearly 500 early childhood professionals, advocates, and parents. The Agenda’s mission of bringing communities from across the Commonwealth together to drive policy change has yielded new partnerships, robust discussions, and a long list of the challenges faced by caregivers and educators of young children.

As we move closer to prioritizing these challenges, we’d like to hear from more voices, especially yours.

Please participate in and share our Early Childhood Agenda Prioritization Survey with your colleagues, neighbors, and friends. To access this brief survey in other languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese), click here.

The survey will be available until Tuesday, December 20, 2022. For more information or questions about the survey, please email info@earlychildhoodagenda.org

On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, we will meet at the Massachusetts State House to release the Agenda results. 

To catch up on what’s already happened with the Early Childhood Agenda:

• Visit the Agenda’s website

• Watch the videos, and

Sign up to join us on Basecamp (where we’re tracking our progress) and you’ll receive updates and be invited to future events

Here’s what’s coming up next:

• The 9:30 Call on Monday, December 19, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. on Zoom 

• Final Meeting on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, at 10 a.m. on Zoom

• The Early Childhood Agenda Release on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, an in-person event

Please join us and encourage your coworkers, colleagues, and the families you serve to do the same. The Agenda should include everyone’s voices.

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“As soon as he took office in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summoned the U.S. Congress to Washington for a three-month special session. Having promised to work quickly to lift the country out of the Great Depression, he pushed through 15 major initiatives, including the Emergency Banking Act, the Farm Credit Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act. Looking back during a radio address in July, he called that period of frenzied legislative activity ‘the first 100 days.’

“This January, governors, mayors, and legislators will be sworn into office across the country. Child and family issues were front and center on the campaign trail, and many of them campaigned on a promise to expand early childhood education. We urge newly elected leaders in red and blue states alike to follow Roosevelt’s example by using their first 100 days in office to rapidly make good on that promise, and to support children and families with better child care opportunities by the time a new school year starts next fall.”

“When he ran for mayor of New York City in 2013, Bill de Blasio made universal prekindergarten the central issue of his campaign. The day he took office, on January 1, 2014, as a blizzard slowed the city to a crawl, de Blasio had Roosevelt’s first 100 days in mind. The people of New York had given him a mandate, but he knew he had to move quickly to make universal prekindergarten a reality. He dubbed the program ‘Pre-K for All’ and committed to having it ready at the beginning of the next school year, in September — a mere eight months away. In his first 100 days, he wanted to build an unstoppable momentum.”

“The First 100 Days: How Newly Elected Legislators Can Make Good on Early Education,” by Danila Crespin Zidovsky and Nonie Lesaux, New America Blog Post, December 7, 2022

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The Prince and Princess of Wales came to Boston last week, and one issue on the royal agenda was early childhood.

The princess, also known as Kate Middleton, visited Harvard to meet with researchers at the university’s Center on the Developing Child.

For Middleton, it was part of a long-standing commitment to young children. As the Royal Foundation for the Prince and Princess of Wales explains on its website:

“Over the last decade, The Princess of Wales has spent time looking into how experiences in early childhood are often the root cause of today’s hardest social challenges, such as addiction, family breakdown, poor mental health, suicide and homelessness.”

In 2020, The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (the prince and princess’ royal titles at the time) released a report on the public’s opinion of early childhood in the United Kingdom based on the responses of half a million people — and factoring in the impact of the pandemic. Among the report’s observations:

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The Early Childhood Agenda is making progress. This convening series hosted by Strategies for Children has brought together more than 400 individual advocates and partners. Participants have been meeting in five working groups to identify systemic challenges and set priorities.

Last week, participants attended a whole group meeting – dubbed “Bringing it all Together” and recorded in the video above – to talk across the Agenda’s working groups and ensure that the groups’ efforts are aligned and that any gaps in the work are addressed.

Among the themes that were discussed:

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Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Great news! Early education and care got a financial boost earlier this month when Governor Charlie Baker signed a $3.76 billion economic development bill into law.

As our FY’23 budget webpage explains, this investment includes “an additional $150 million to continue the C3 Stabilization Grants through the end of the fiscal year in June 2023, and an additional $315 million in the newly created High-Quality Early Education and Care Affordability Fund.”

We are grateful to the Legislature for passing this bill and to the governor for signing it.

In a State House News story that ran in the Sentinel & Enterprise, Baker says Massachusetts can invest in child care and be fiscally prudent:

“Recognizing the importance of childcare investments, I am approving sections in this bill that redirect $315 million from the Commonwealth Taxpayer Relief Fund to the High-Quality Early Education & Care Affordability Fund. However, we can invest in childcare and make sensible tax changes at the same time. With the state in a historically strong fiscal position, the tax cuts that the Legislature has committed to prioritizing next session will be affordable without a special set-aside.”

A WBUR report focuses on the relief for some workers, noting:

(more…)

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