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Photo: Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

What happens when a foster parent learns about an early learning center that’s willing to try a new approach?

Progress.

That’s the story Kate Audette tells about a child placed in her care by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state’s child welfare agency.

It was 2020, in the middle of the pandemic and after George Floyd was murdered, when Audette, who has been a licensed foster care provider since 2017, accepted the placement of an infant whom we’ll call Jordan to protect the child’s privacy. 

Audette was working from home at the time and planned to keep the baby home “until it felt safe for them to go to school.”

But she did take the baby to a neighborhood rally in support of George Floyd. The event was organized by Dorchester People for Peace. It was outside. Everyone wore masks. It felt safe.

It also turned out to be life changing.

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April 6, 2022

Dear President Biden:

“We write to thank you for your commitment to cutting the cost and increasing the supply of high-quality child care for families across the country.”

“As you know, the high costs of child care and the difficulty of finding quality, affordable child care are challenges facing too many families across the country. The annual price of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the annual cost of in-state tuition at a public four-year university in every region of the country. In addition to overwhelming costs, approximately 460,000 families are without reliable child care because the child care sector has lost over 1 in 9 jobs since the start of the pandemic.”

“Now is the time to make additional comprehensive, long-term investments in affordable, high-quality child care to build on the critical but largely short-term investments made through the American Rescue Plan.”

“It is clear that child care and early learning investments are an integral part of our nation’s strategy for supporting a robust economy, lowering costs for families, and ensuring the long-term success of our children.”

Sincerely,
Katherine M. Clark, Member of Congress
Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator
Tina Smith, United States Senator
[And 150 other Members of the U.S. House and Senate]

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state house

Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

Today the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee released its $49.6 billion state budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.

For early education and care, this budget includes several key provisions:

• $60 million in a salary rate reserve for providers who accept child care subsidies (line item 3000-1042). This line item also includes an additional $10 million for grants to early education and care providers for costs associated with personal childcare, a new initiative.

• $5 million for navigation support and outreach to families, including language continuing EEC’s recent policy of paying subsidies based on child enrollment instead of attendance (part of line item 3000-1000). 

• Increases for: Access Management (3000-2000, for resource and referral agencies); Head Start (3000-5000); and Workforce Development (3000-7066)

• Level funding for the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative (3000-6025) and early childhood mental health (3000-6075).

In total, the House budget proposal provides $91 million more for early education and care than the FY23 budget proposal that Governor Charlie Baker released in January.

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Cheyanne Nichter

Cheyanne Nichter and her son

This Spring, I will be graduating from Bunker Hill Community College with honors and an associate degree in Early Childhood Development. Over the course of the semester I have been working as an intern for Strategies For Children, exploring issues and opportunities in our field as well as my own abilities and passions. I have also reevaluated my goals and future pathways in both my academic and professional pursuits. As a result of the pandemic, and the fact that I live in a child care desert, I took on these challenges with my young son on my hip. 

During my time at Strategies, I saw first-hand how early childhood programs, families, diversity, sociology, research/data collection, and the pursuit of societal justice all intersect in the world of advocacy and engagement. This led me to do an independent research project that draws on my analysis of how the use of digital platforms and trends corresponds to social shifts, and how advocacy organizations can capitalize on digital resources to reach more deeply into the community. My presentation, “Modern Engagement: Making Advocacy Accessible”, covers how organizations can use interactive social platforms for effective communication and engagement. This approach uses modern communication tools and strategies that meet communities where they are, allowing them to access and participate in the dialogue and to use the advocacy resources within their personal bandwidth.

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future of work

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

There’s a new report in town produced by the Massachusetts Legislature’s Future of Work Commission that says “Massachusetts will need to adapt its workforce training, public transit and child care systems to better support workers in a post COVID-19 economy,” a State House News story reports, adding:

“The report also warned that regional and racial disparities in income will also widen without intervention as white collar professions shift more easily to hybrid and remote work models, while service and manufacturing jobs offer less flexibility.”

As the report itself explains, “The Commission was formed in the spring of 2021 to investigate and evaluate the impacts of technological change and automation on work by 2030.”

The report takes into account old factors and new factors, including the impact of the pandemic.

Among the challenges the report points to, “Demand for greater access and flexibility in childcare is far outpacing supply.”

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Ever feel like you would enjoy having inspiring, high-powered friends who believe fiercely in high-quality early education and care?

Look no further than U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and the advocates and leaders from the field who testified last week at a special hearing on child care held by the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP).

The video and testimony transcripts are posted here.

Murray opened the proceedings with a smart, sweeping, we-have-got-to-do-better speech.

The economy, she said, “isn’t just about numbers on a page and whether they go up or down. It’s about people across the country and whether they can get what they need, whether they can take care of their loved ones, and whether things are working for them and their families.”

And one thing families – and the economy – need is child care.

“So in short,” Murray added, “we’ve got an affordability problem, child care shouldn’t be an extra mortgage; a wages problem, child care workers are leaving the field for higher paying work; and an options problem, there just aren’t enough providers… This is not just terrible for parents and kids, but for our economy as a whole.”

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has created a promising new Office of Early Childhood, and this office has a new leader, Kristin McSwain.

The office will “advance the administration’s commitment to universal, affordable, high-quality early education and care for all children under five,” by:

• expanding access to early education and childcare programs

• investing in Boston’s early education and care workforce

• accelerating “the creation of a universal pre-K system that stretches across Boston Public Schools (BPS), community-based organizations, and family-based childcare programs”

• expanding high-quality, affordable options for infants and toddlers, and

• serving as “a central point-of-entry for residents looking for information on early education and childcare programming and wraparound services for young children and their families”

Mayor Wu, the mother of two young boys, sums up the vital importance of this work, saying, “Every bit of investment in our children and families to close gaps in early education and care is an investment in our collective future.”

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Last night, Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies for Children, spoke at the graduation ceremony for the City of Boston Childcare Entrepreneur Fund.

“The Fund offers support to current and aspiring owners of family childcare businesses in Boston. Fund recipients attend business training and receive grant funding for their business.”

Here’s part of what O’Leary said:

“We continue to be inspired by this dedicated and resilient workforce and their commitment to the problem solving, building partnerships and providing high-quality learning experiences under incredible circumstances.

“And YOU – tonight we celebrate you, the graduates of the City of Boston Childcare Entrepreneur Fund.

“You can change the world. All of the skills, gifts and talents you use to support young children can be used where you are sitting right now to lead. 

“The most important piece is that YOU have to BELIEVE.

“WE are the ones we have been waiting for.

“YOU ARE SMART, POWERFUL LEADERS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES!

“We need to believe in ourselves and be willing to think differently about the future.

“It is critical that we find new, innovative, and meaningful ways to support educators and expand access to childcare for Boston families.”

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Happy second anniversary to The 9:30 Call

After the pandemic hit, Strategies for Children set up the 9:30 Call on Zoom as a fast, easy way for the early education field to share, well, everything, from government updates to coping strategies to fears.

Over time, the list of 9:30 Call attendees grew. Guest speakers logged on, including former Commissioner of Early Education and Care Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, State Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), and State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester).

Even better, members of the early education and care field from across Massachusetts could talk to each other every morning.

Last week, participants on the 9:30 Call talked about – drumroll — the 9:30 Call, producing a word cloud that sums up the amazing power of connecting through conversations.

Now even as the pandemic wanes (hopefully), the 9:30 call will continue. Sign up here to join us, Monday through Thursday every week at, yes, 9:30 a.m.

As we’ve discovered there’s so much that meaningful conversations can accomplish.

So, here’s to another year of calls and to making daily connections with the inspiring and resilient early education and care community here in Massachusetts.

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Screenshot: Website of the 192nd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Looking for excitement?

You might not think you’d find it in a fiscal year 2023 budget meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

But here’s the exciting part: Massachusetts is on the edge of greatness. This state could make wise, strategic investments in early education and care that could lead to powerful change. Residents of every city and town could have access to affordable, world class preschool programs that help young children thrive and grow into successful adults.

“This will take time,” Amy O’Leary, Strategies for Children’s executive director, said in her testimony to the joint committee.

It will also take visionary action.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has a blueprint for action, the final report from the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, which explains that “Building a sustainable and well-functioning system for early education and care is critical and urgent, especially for Massachusetts’s most vulnerable families.” 

There is a huge need for progress. As O’Leary explains in her testimony: 

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