Many families of young children faced significant challenges prior to the pandemic, needing support with access to resources like diapers while also seeking access to high-quality affordable childcare. The pandemic exacerbated these issues with sky-rocketing diaper prices, mandatory childcare closures and an increasingly worrisome early educator workforce shortage. Combined impacts on women in the workforce were notable, driving early childhood into the spotlight at a national level. Although the reasons for gaining attention have many clear downsides, the field is working to capitalize on this moment to advocate for changes and resources needed to support young children and their families.
At United Way of Mass Bay, early childhood success has been one of our areas of focus. Our ongoing work is based on the premise that the spectrum of supports needed to ensure kindergarten readiness begins when a baby is born and continues through early education and care experiences. We partner closely with community-based organizations, including childcare centers and family childcare providers to stay active in the early childhood community, aiming to step up and support needs as they arise and amplify the voices of folks in the field to our corporate and philanthropic partners. We do this work through three main touchpoints: an annual Community Baby Shower that connects new and expecting parents with needed resources, our DRIVE initiative that champions developmental screening to identify potential child needs to ensure early connection to resources, and our Shared Services initiative that bolsters business sustainability practices of family childcare educators, a part of the early education sector that is key to the availability of high-quality affordable childcare seats. We also pivot when needed to support the field as we did in January of 2022 by launching the Childcare Appreciation Fund to provide mini-grants to nearly 200 childcare centers to support staff wellness.
We know the last two years have been challenging, and the impacts on young children and their caregivers are significant. Many young children missed important resources needed to support their healthy growth and development, including some pediatric well visits and home visits, and many educators report children in childcare have collectively more significant needs than prior to the pandemic. Many caregivers of young children are still facing significant financial stress and are working to access resources to support their families’ needs. And childcare administrators and educators have been going nonstop for two years, continuing to show up for the children and families in their communities as they attempt to navigate the pandemic themselves.
The impact on the emotional health of young children, their caregivers, and early educators is one the field will need to continue to evaluate as time goes on. To support educators, United Way is partnering with The Massachusetts Institute for Infant Mental Health (MassAIMH) and Boston Medical Center to host a two-part virtual series for folks working with families of young children on April 15th and 25th. Two years of this level of change and stress has undoubtedly taken a toll, but the early childhood field is comprised of strong leaders who work tirelessly for the needs of young children. United Way is always eager to stand alongside these leaders and work together for the success of young children and their families.