United Way early ed and policy team at the State House for Early Childhood Agenda

Why Now is the Time for Transformative Change in Early Education and Care

Now is the Time

Every new legislative session starts with a renewed optimism that the long-standing issues and challenges facing the early education and out-of-school time field will be addressed, paving the way for more children to access quality childcare and empowering more families to work and thrive.

The movement to fortify and expand the Commonwealth’s system of early education and care has never had as much momentum as it has right now. And it has never been more needed.

According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, more than 16,000 children are on a waiting list for state subsidies to help pay for child care. The Department of Labor just released figures showing that parents who live in Middlesex and Norfolk counties pay the third-highest child care costs in the nation, and in Suffolk county families paid nearly 30 percent of their income on child care. The MTF also reports that lack of access to affordable, quality child care results in over $2.7 billion a year in lost earnings for employees, lower productivity for employers and reduced tax revenue.

“Though these challenges have been heightened in the last few years, the crisis in early education and out of school time care has been growing for decades,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Early educators and after school program staff, and parents and caregivers have long raised up the fragility of the sector and have called for action to resource these critical supports for families.

Here’s a look at some of the key initiatives and partnerships that are driving a powerful agenda for policies to support the growth, development and learning of all young children across the Commonwealth, and why we’re convinced that lasting, systemic change is ahead.

Early Childhood Agenda speaker

Launch of a New, Cross-Sector Early Childhood Agenda

During the height of the pandemic, Strategies for Children offered a space for early education and out-of-school time providers to come together.  Childcare providers, funders and advocacy organizations began meeting every day at 9:30 am via Zoom to share updates, concerns and strategies, helping each other get through the crisis, and navigate what at times felt like daily curveballs together.

Inspired by the voices on this daily meeting and the learnings it built for the field, the 9:30 Call continues to this day. When Strategies for Children embarked on developing a policy agenda for this year, they started that process with one simple question.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What would it look like if the people who do this work every day were a part of the process, reflecting on the challenges and prioritizing solutions?’” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies For Children.  

Based on the input of the voices on that call and over 1,000 others, Strategies for Children and dozens of partners recently released the first Massachusetts Early Childhood Agenda, which includes 10 comprehensive priorities to ensure children and families thrive. State Senator Jason Lewis and State Representative Alice Peisch, who led the Early Education Economic Review Commission and released recommendations last spring were among the legislators who attended the State House launch.

As part of the Early Childhood Agenda, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, along with Massachusetts Act Early and the Massachusetts Early Intervention Consortium will work to ensure greater awareness and dissemination of resources to expand developmental monitoring and universal screening.

United Way’s DRIVE initiative has championed developmental screening for nearly 10 years. DRIVE focuses on healthy childhood development, working with early childhood providers in various sectors using a data-driven approach to enable and empower providers to make informed, strategic decisions to tailor supports and resources for children and families and ensure they enter school ready to learn. The initiative also raises awareness of the importance of screening and promotes and supports the use of data to inform program, policy, and systems change. Since 2014, more than 65 DRIVE partners have screened over 14,000 children in Boston and beyond.

The ten priorities of the Early Childhood Agenda can be found here

Early Childhood 101 Website screenshot

A Child Is Born in Massachusetts, and Then What Happens?

The Massachusetts Early Childhood Funders’ Collaborative, co-chaired by Karley Ausiello, United Way Chief of Community Impact, partnered with the Rennie Center over the last several months to create EC101 – a website that anyone can access to follow the evolution of a child’s (and their parent/caregiver’s) interactions with resources and systems through the first five years of life.

“The EC101 website is interactive and has a breadth of information that is useful to anyone who has young children in their life whether it’s personally or professionally, or for those who are less familiar with the experiences of this population and want to learn more,” said Karley Ausiello. 

The Massachusetts Early Childhood Funder Collaborative (MA ECFC) is a partnership working to ensure that all young children in Massachusetts have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. This group of public and private foundation and individual funders has come together with the intention of serving as a vehicle to strengthen the community of early childhood funders and to drive policy and systems change by catalyzing a unified early childhood strategy.

“EC101 will provide a common language and more precise descriptions of the challenges to be solved and will serve as the basis for clearer and better aligned aspirations, as well as more fully articulated solutions,” said Turahn Dorsey, Chief Impact Officer for Eastern Bank Foundation.

“Far too many families struggle to find resources to provide quality education and care for our youngest residents,” said State Representative Adrian Madaro. “Part of the problem is that resources are really fractured and complex, and it can be extremely difficult for policy makers, let alone parents, to fully understand what is available. Knitting together the different systems at play is critical to ensuring children thrive.”

It’s the Economy, Too

The opportunity cost associated with the lack of affordable, accessible quality childcare is on the rise. According to this article in Fortune magazine shared recently by the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education, the estimated costs of lost earnings and productivity is now $122 billion annually at a national level, up from $57 billion annually in 2018. In Massachusetts, that opportunity cost is estimated to be $2.7 billion per year, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, co-chaired by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Alice Peisch released a roadmap examining state funding and ways to expand equitable access to high quality early education and care across the Commonwealth.

“Early education and out of school time programs are essential for our economy and for ensuring the financial wellbeing of families and caregivers,” said United Way’s Giannino. “Likewise, education, which depends on a solid foundation in the early years is a crucial avenue to prosperity. It is exciting to see the partnerships and momentum that have been built over the past several years grow to a point where we can bring to life the vision of an early education and care system that works for everyone.”