As our region recovers, thousands of children and families are at risk of being left behind. Here are three urgent issues we can address, now.
Covid-19 is a once-in-a-generation crisis that has touched us all. But we also know that not all of us have access to the same assets and supports that are helping us through it.
During the height of the pandemic, we drew resilience from the strengths and connections we had around us. Our homes provided safe and stable places for remote schooling and remote work. Government provided important safeguards through protective policies and additional resources to support those who lost jobs or income. And people were generous – individuals and companies stepped in with donations to help fill the gaps and support those who could not access the traditional safety net.
“The weeks and months ahead provide all of us – communities, nonprofits, businesses and government with a chance to stare some of our region’s entrenched inequities in the eye and mobilize resources and supports in place to address them,” says Bob Giannino, our President and Chief Executive Officer.
Here are three issues we can address now through a comprehensive, region-wide response to help foster thriving, equitable communities.
Engage students with the social-emotional supports they need as they return to school by expanding access to afterschool programs
Before the pandemic: More than 320,000 Massachusetts students were stranded on waiting lists for available afterschool & out-of-school time programs. United Way currently works with 87 nonprofit partners and is the largest private funder of out-of-school time programming in Massachusetts. Last year, our network’s direct services provided 64,400 school-age youth with safe environments for learning, enrichment, and the development of social and emotional skills.
What’s needed now: Approximately 60% of parents of students ages six- to eight years old report that Covid-19 had a negative impact on their child’s academic and social-emotional development, according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In a separate survey conducted by the Department of Public Health, one in three youth ages 14-24 reported worrying last fall about continuing their education. Pre-school and kindergarten enrollments were down 31% and 12% over the last year, underscoring the importance of engaging young learners and smoothing the transition to in-person learning to provide young children with a stronger foundation.
The out-of-school time field stepped up during the crisis and partnered with the public school districts in their communities to open remote learning spaces, serve as food distribution sites and expand access to summer learning and activities to prepare students for the return to school this year.
Now more than ever, students need academic, social/emotional and mental health support – particularly following a year of increased isolation and anxiety – to engage in learning, and out-of-school time programs need increased funding to address heightened challenges left in the wake of remote learning.
Expand access to early education to provide a solid foundation for young learners and empower parents/caregivers to get back to work
Before the pandemic: Nearly 46,000 children across the state in need of childcare were not enrolled in programming. Our most vulnerable communities need access to reliable, affordable early education, which is core to supporting the healthy development of young children while giving caregivers flexibility to work and pursue career development. Thanks to the support from our donors and corporate partners, United Way is the largest private funder of early childhood education in Massachusetts. As a result of our resources and leadership, our network of 53 early education and care providers help ensure over 18,400 young children are ready to learn in kindergarten each year.
What’s needed now: The loss of affordable, reliable childcare and the challenges of remote schooling also meant lost income for parents and caregivers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, more than 31,000 households in Massachusetts report an adult took unpaid leave to care for a child, and more than 51,000 households report that an adult cut work hours to care for their children. The supply of child-care seats in Boston fell by an average of 16 percent between March and September 2020, according to a July 2021 report by the Boston Opportunity Agenda. More than 747 family child care businesses statewide have closed and not yet reopened.
The loss of early education programming is also impacting the healthy development of young children. According to the same report by the Boston Opportunity Agenda, the number of eligible children receiving early intervention services dropped 40 percent from February 2020 to February 2021.
We must continue to expand access to high-quality early education for young children and provide business training and support to family childcare providers – an often-overlooked minority and women-led workforce – to ensure sustainability and prevent even more closures.
Prevent those who have lost income from losing their housing
Before the pandemic: A resilient community is one where everyone has safe, stable homes and the opportunity to pursue economic opportunity. According to The Boston Foundation, nearly half of renters in Greater Boston were considered “cost-burdened” in 2019, meaning they already spent 30 percent of their income or more on housing. Homelessness is rising as a result of a widening gap between rent and income, impacting health and educational outcomes for generations. As a result of United Way’s funding, advocacy, and partnerships with over 75 housing providers, more than 13,400 families stayed in their homes last year. Our network of 63 career and financial coaching partners provided more than 8,600 families with resources to increase their credit, increase savings and reduce debt.
What’s needed now: Over 113,000 households report they are behind on rent, putting them at risk of eviction with the expiration of the federal moratorium. The pandemic has hit young workers and young parents particularly hard. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports young workers were two times more likely to lose their jobs than adult workers, and one in two employed young parents lost their jobs or reduced their hours. One in five Massachusetts households with children is facing food insecurity. This is pushing our crisis response system to the limit, and further straining the region’s patchwork of critical services and supports that keep low-income households afloat.
With the expiration of the extended unemployment benefits and the federal eviction moratorium, we need to dramatically increase investments in housing assistance, create more deeply supportive housing, and expand resources for long-term economic empowerment.