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Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

“With the Commonwealth in a historically strong fiscal position, the FY23 budget supports tax relief for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, while making record investments in education and local aid,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Since coming into office, our Administration has worked closely with the Legislature to ensure the budget is structurally sound and protected from unpredictable economic fluctuations, and I am pleased to sign another budget that maintains this commitment while making investments help Massachusetts’ families and communities grow and thrive.”

“The FY23 budget maintains our Administration’s strong support for the Commonwealth’s cities and towns and expands services in acute areas of need, like housing stability, education and childcare access, workforce development, transportation, substance addiction treatment, and behavioral health care,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “This funding will further our work to encourage the economic growth of our communities, promote equitable access to opportunity and support the health and wellbeing of all residents.”

“Governor Charlie Baker Signs Fiscal Year 2023 Budget,” Governor’s Press Office, July 28, 2022

For detailed information about the early education and care items in the budget, please visit Strategies for Children’s state budget page.

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Federal Reserve photo

Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

What happens when an early educator and a community leader team up with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston?

Everybody wins.

That’s what occurred when two members of the Boston Fed’s Leaders for Equitable Local Economies (LELE) program saw the damage caused by the pandemic.

“After COVID-19 hit, Marites MacLean and Beth Robbins noticed a worrying trend: Dozens of child care centers were closing across central Massachusetts. And as families lost reliable child care, local businesses increasingly struggled to fill jobs,” a Boston Fed article says.

MacLean is a longtime early educator and one of Strategies for Children’s original 9:30 Call participants. Robbins was helping “jobseekers through a local nonprofit called WORK Inc.” Both women are also residents of Fitchburg, Mass. And the LELE program they participate in supports and strengthens leaders like them who are “taking on the critical work of rebuilding economic systems in Massachusetts’ smaller cities.”

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“Child care provider Damaris Mejia is about to get the biggest pay raise of her life, starting this summer: the District of Columbia will send her and her co-teachers each a big check, between $10,000 and $14,000.

“At last, ‘I will have happy teachers!’ she says, laughing.

“It’s part of a broader push — made more urgent by the pandemic — as D.C. and dozens of states try different ways to fix a child care system that is badly broken. Some are using temporary pandemic aid, while others seek longer term funding. Last year, Louisiana passed a sports betting bill that designates 25 percent of revenue for early learning programs. Wherever the money comes from, advocates across the country say something must be done to ease the fundamental challenge of providing care families can afford, while allowing providers to earn a living.”

“Mejia pays her teachers $17 an hour. Now, that’s well above the national median of $13 an hour that makes child care one of the country’s lowest paid occupations. But in pricey D.C., it’s barely above minimum wage, which became $16.10 as of July 1. Mejia earns about $30,000 a year. Her profit margin is so thin, she’ll sometimes forgo her own pay to meet bills, and she’s behind on taxes.

“She says her pay bump will go first toward helping pay those back taxes. One of her teachers, Ana Gonzalez, says it will help her finally achieve a goal of having her own house; she and her 24-year-old daughter plan to split the cost and buy something together.”

“Bonus checks! One year free! How states are trying to fix a broken child care system,” by Jennifer Ludden, NPR, July 13, 2022

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“It takes a village to raise a child — or as Mayor Eric Adams puts it, these days it takes a city.”

“There’s currently only one available child-care slot for every five infants in New York City, the city said. However, the mayor said he hopes that the Blueprint for Child Care & Early Childhood Education in New York City will change that number.”

“Adams on Tuesday released a blueprint outlining a multi-agency $2 billion investment over the next four years that he said will increase the quality of child care and early childhood education — make them more accessible and equitable.

“More than 500,000 children under the age of 5 will benefit from the plan, including undocumented children and their families, the mayor said.”

“ ‘As a child, my mother had to work three jobs and still find a way to take care of me and my siblings. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 375,000 parents were forced to quit or downshift their jobs because they had no other way to take care of their children. Now, my administration is working to make sure no parent has to make that hard choice between childcare and putting food on their table again,’ said Adams.”

“ ‘It takes a city:’ Mayor creates $2B plan to improve child care, early childhood education in NYC,” by Kristin F. Dalton, silive.com,

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State House_SFC

Amy O’Leary at the Massachusetts State House in 2011

We’re thrilled to wish Amy O’Leary a happy 20th anniversary! She started working at Strategies for Children on June 24, 2002.

We sat down with O’Leary to talk about this milestone.

“I have to say how grateful I am to have been at Strategies for Children for the last 20 years,” O’Leary says. “I would have never imagined that I would have this kind of job.”

O’Leary’s work with young children started at Skidmore College where she earned a degree in psychology and early education.

“I didn’t do a traditional K-12 education major,” O’Leary recalls, “because I was very interested in understanding why children did what they did, and how they sat in the context of family and community.” 

O’Leary’s campus job as a financial aid student was working as a classroom assistant at the Skidmore Early Childhood Center, a laboratory school affiliated with Skidmore’s Education Department, where she also did her student-teaching. 

“It was such an important part of my college experience to have that world where I could go three times a week, whether it was to my campus job or [for] student teaching, and develop relationships with families.”

“I don’t think I realized how wonderful the program was, and how it prepared me for my next job as a preschool teacher in Boston.”

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Walk into a preschool classroom and it can look like all the children are fine. But to understand how children are doing and how they are doing over time, it’s crucial to use developmental screenings.

A recently released webinar and issue brief from the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley drives this point home.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website, developmental screenings help early educators and parents monitor whether children are meeting “the typical developmental milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving.”

In its brief, the United Way points to the need to act now:

“Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, developmental screening will be more important than ever to support mitigation of long-lasting developmental delays and social emotional concerns for young children.”

“Early research out of Brown University and New York city indicates developmental impacts on babies under six months of age who were born during the pandemic, specifically on fine motor, personal social and cognitive skills.”

The brief draws on the United Way’s developmental screening initiative, called DRIVE (short for Data & Resources Investing in Vital Early Education), which grew out of a partnership with the city of Boston.

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”We write today to share the challenges the ECE sector continues to face and to request that Congress rally behind the new Murray-Kaine ECE proposal and invest a minimum of $200 billion in the reconciliation bill to ensure that high-quality early education and care delivered by well-compensated educators is available and affordable for all Massachusetts families.

“The system for providing care and education for our youngest learners was broken even before the pandemic. In order to provide high-quality programming in enriching learning environments, providers need to make costly investments in building infrastructure, classroom materials, and the workforce. Yet, programs cannot squeeze more out of families who are already struggling to afford care and the voucher system does not compensate programs for the true cost of that care.”

“Since March 2020, 1,359 programs in the Commonwealth have closed, representing 17% of all programs in the state and 23,395 slots for children. Data from January of this year reveals that 60% of programs reported reduced enrollment driven primarily through staff shortages, and 69% of programs reported educator openings.”

“At this crucial moment where transformative investment is within reach but uncertain, we request that you ensure that ECE is included in the reconciliation package and that it includes a minimum investment of $200 billion into the early education and care system.”

— A letter to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation signed by 182 advocacy organizations, business associations, foundations, higher education institutions, school districts, and child care providers from 94 communities across the state, including Strategies for Children, June 10, 2022

To learn more, check out CLASP’s “Impact of Murray-Kaine Child Care & Early Education Proposal” 

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care

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Check out this new feature from WBUR radio that is aptly titled: “We asked 8 child care workers about their joys and frustrations. Here’s what they said.”

It’s part of a week-long series on early education and care.

This particular article and audio clip features:

Bernadette Davidson

Kiya Savannah

Vanessa Pashkoff (whom we’ve blogged about)

Kimberly Artez

Llanet Montoya

Anna Rogers

Kitt Cox, and

Stacia Buckmann

WBUR asks these early educators to discuss “the joys and challenges of working in this industry, and why some are leaving the profession,” as the field grapples with challenges.

“The child care workforce in Massachusetts is about 12% smaller today than it was before the start of the pandemic, according to a recent analysis from the University of California, Berkeley,” WBUR explains.

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Here’s an update on two of our Advocacy Network participants.

Stay tuned for more Advocacy Network updates in the coming weeks.


Gloria Valentin head shot

Gloria Valentin

Send Gloria Valentin an email that mentions a family challenge you have to deal with, as I did, and the email you receive back will be a small, electronic packet of sunshine and reassurance.

“I have an optimistic personality,” Valentin says. “I want to bring joy in times when everything is so daunting. I have days, trust me, when I’m like, I’m not feeling it today. But I have that energy and that outlook of just being positive and not allowing things I can’t control to take over my life.”

Valentin has been a family child care provider for 22 years, but she talks about her work as if she just started last month, and she’s got a dozen new things she wants to do.

She began her career as an early educator at a center-based program, then opened up her own business. Today, she’s also involved in advocacy, and she has participated in Strategies for Children’s Speakers Bureau and our Advocacy Network

“The time that we spent together each week, was a time for us to find our voices, to practice public speaking, and to move forward as advocates,” Valentin says of her experience in the Advocacy Network, where she drew inspiration from other advocates who spoke about forming relationships with elected officials and following up with them.

“That really stood out for me, making those connections and being proud of the work I do and sharing it. Family child care is a hidden gem. 

“But the work can be isolating, so I want to make connections and let people in government know that we’re here and that our work is so important. We should be included in conversations about quality child care programs and financial accessibility.”

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Amy O’Leary

Amy O’Leary, the executive director of Strategies for Children, was on Boston Public Radio yesterday talking about the high cost of child care.

Here are some excerpts of what she said:

“One of the things we have learned in the pandemic is we really saw what parent choice looks like. What has typically been a very personal decision, feeling that you’re on your own trying to navigate the bureaucracies really came to light [because] parents were more willing to talk to their employers about what was happening in reality in their homes.”

“We also saw flexibility from the government. So many of our policies are very rigid and have a lot of hoops to jump through for families,” O’Lear says, explaining how the pandemic has changed things. “Suddenly, we’re relaxed because the connection between early education and care programs, and our economy was so clear, even though we’ve had research and data and reports for decades… that tell us how critical early childhood is to brain development and supporting children in the earliest years.”

“We saw policy change pretty dramatically. And I think that has set the stage for what we think about for the future.”

However, O’Leary says, funding will be essential.

“I don’t know many young families who can afford $21,000 for their baby to go to child care.”

“We can’t one-time fund our way out of this decades-long crisis. We really have to think about sustainable, strategic funding and policies.”

To hear more, tune in!

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