As more companies prepare to bring more workers back to the office, our state’s early education and out-of-school time sector is about to face a new stress test.
Early education, government, philanthropic and business leaders will be closely monitoring whether the steps that Massachusetts has taken to stabilize this critical sector during the pandemic will be enough. Family child care providers, or FCCs, an often-overlooked solution to the early education affordability and accessibility crisis, will play a critical role ensuring families can get back to work and increase their financial well-being.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on childcare providers across our region, and we are seeing that most acutely with the widespread staffing shortages and closures of family childcare operations serving predominantly children and families from low-income Boston communities,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
Massachusetts has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the nation. With child care costs ranking third-highest, supporting workers in low-wage service and care work is one of our greatest challenges to closing that gap. The Covid-19 crisis exacerbated this affordability crisis and the supply of quality child care.
According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of providing child care during the pandemic has risen by 70 percent for FCC providers nationwide. The pandemic has accelerated these trends and only worsened the prospects of FCC businesses. Across the Commonwealth, over 300 FCC businesses closed their doors because of the crisis.
Family childcare entrepreneurs, primarily women of color and immigrants, are an integral part of the state’s economy. Yet, despite their indispensable roles, they lack the business support that other types of entrepreneurs receive such as budgeting, rate setting, and marketing.
United Way’s Shared Services initiative provides business training and peer support networks for FCC providers who face many challenges including isolation, limited resources and support staff, and lack of business expertise. To date, Shared Services MA has trained over 500 FCC educators in Boston, Lowell, Cambridge, Somerville, and Everett and mobilized more than 1,000 early educators to access free resources on business and pedagogical best practices.
“Providing family childcare educators with the support they need to thrive boosts the availability of affordable, high-quality, culturally affirming learning environments, and improves child outcomes by keeping doors open, ensuring fewer transitions for children and families,” Giannino adds.
As part of United Way Worldwide’s Advocacy Day, Giannino and other Massachusetts United Way leaders met with several members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation on Capitol Hill. United Way is making the case to include $1.3M in the 2023 Congressional Appropriations Bill to expand United Way’s Shared Services MA program in the budget package that Congress will debate this fall. Lawmakers were also recognized for their leadership in expanding the Child Tax Credit, increasing access to food security, and standing with communities hard hit by the pandemic.
If included, the increased funding for Shared Services will be used to invest in workforce development for 200 early childhood educators, including:
- Providing one-time stabilization stipends of $2,500 to these front-line workers who have been sustaining our economy;
- Delivering a multi-lingual family childcare business curriculum, including coaching and technical assistance from subject matter experts on such topics as tax and retirement planning and credit building to increase sustainability and therefore access to care in preferred languages for our most vulnerable children and families;
- Providing instruction on screening for 1,200 additional children for developmental delays including support for referrals to ensure children enter kindergarten ready to learn.
“Shared Services is a proven economic development initiative that invests in the workforce needs of family child care businesses and increases the sustainability of the early education sector,” Giannino says. United Way is uniquely positioned to carry this work forward, and we look forward to our continued advocacy on Capitol Hill to scale this important work.”