To Address Wealth Disparity in Massachusetts, United Way Focuses on Early Childhood Care in Low-Income Communities

August 28, 2018

“Shared Services” Model Supports Business Owners and Eases Financial Burdens for Caregivers

BOSTON — With grants totaling more than $410,000 from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health, The Boston Foundation, Eastern Bank and the Hogan Foundation, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley today announced it will expand an innovative model aimed at helping small, center-based and family child care providers generate cost savings for quality improvements to programming into Boston.   

“In a state with high levels of income inequality and gender wage gaps, supporting workers in traditionally low-wage service and caregiving work is imperative. These entrepreneurs are an integral part of the state’s economy, but they often lack business knowledge and are more susceptible to rising costs of rent and other expenses,” said Michael K. Durkin, President & CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

This tension between running a business and enriching children is the reason United Way recently launched the innovative Shared Services initiative, which:

  • Provides educators with small business support and training;
  • Pools business owners’ purchasing power to achieve greater collective bargaining power with vendors; and
  • Offers discounted services to employees, easing the burden of traditionally low wages
  • Facilitates improvements to program quality for young children through information and best-practice sharing among programs on curriculum and family engagement.

The new funds from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health, The Boston Foundation, Eastern Bank and the Hogan Foundation will enable United Way to launch a Boston Early Childhood Shared Services Alliance with 8 multi-site partners (Catholic Charities, College Bound Dorchester, Crispus Attucks, East Boston Social Centers, Hattie B. Cooper, Nurtury, Project Hope, and United South End Settlements) with the goal of generating savings of at least $1,000 per site in the first year.

The expansion of Shared Services into Boston will also include training of 40 providers through a Small Business Innovation Course in partnership with UMASS Boston, and launching a substitute teacher pool with UMass and Bunker Hill to cultivate paid interns from early education degree programs to fill the demand for qualified substitutes and build a teacher pipeline.

In Massachusetts, the median annual salary for the state’s 90,000 child care workers is only $25,000, according to a report released earlier this year. More than 39% of the early childhood workforce in the Commonwealth is on public assistance and more than 13% live in poverty. The number of child care providers serving low-income children is declining, putting additional stress on those that remain. The most recent estimates suggest family child care providers make up 15-20% of Boston’s total child care capacity.

For early education employees, United Way’s Shared Services partnership provides tangible financial relief. Seeded by a grant of $30,000 from the Cambridge Community Foundation, United Way launched Shared Services of Massachusetts with a 14-program pilot in Cambridge and Somerville in October 2017. The initiative combines a web platform offering a range of resources, monthly meetings where participating programs share information, and partnerships to facilitate services with local insurance, utility and property management providers along with IT, finance and marketing support.

“These partnerships are helping educators focus their time and resources on what’s most important – the kids,” said Geeta Pradhan, President and CEO at the Cambridge Community Foundation. “ research shows that high-quality early education impacts the healthy brain development of young children and sets conditions for a healthy and more equitable future”


The Massachusetts model is based on the success of the State Early Learning Alliance (SELA) in New Hampshire, which was launched by United Way of the Greater Seacoast in 2011.  

In its first six months, SELA participating programs saved $84,000 in operating costs and reallocated those funds to workforce development and classroom improvements. Today, participating members save an average of $5,000 – $10,000 annually, and employees and families are each saving $500 – $1,000 annually. Additionally, 64 teachers have benefited from college credit courses, 12 programs have participated in business management training, and the average turnover of participating programs has decreased to between 7 and 15 percent, compared to the national average of 35 percent.

“During my 25-plus years managing a multi-site early childhood agency, one of the most challenging parts of the job was related to facility needs,” said Cellissa Hoyt, Director of SELA New Hampshire. “All our early childhood sites were in facilities not designed for our use and considered “fixer uppers” in every way. This truly was a game changer for me.”  


United Way’s Shared Services pilot in Massachusetts is seeing real returns. Through a partnership with Great North Property Management Company, participating programs have realized major discounts on business insurance and pressing property management needs including roof replacement, window repair and discounted cell phone plans for their business employees.

A partnership with The Alliance for Nonprofit Growth and Opportunity (TANGO) programs provides access to discounted dental insurance and a host of other HR services and free seminars. The initiative has also partnered with Lesley University to recruit substitutes and is working with Bunker Hill Community College to finalize a similar partnership.  

“High-quality early education impacts the healthy brain development of young children,” said Geeta Pradhan, President and CEO at the Cambridge Community Foundation.  “These partnerships are helping educators focus their time and resources on what’s most important – the kids.”

“Those who run early education and care programs, during the school day or during the critically important out of school times, wear multiple hats – from plumber to bookkeeper, to instructional leader,” said Lisa Kuh, Director of Early Education at Somerville Public Schools, Capuano Early Childhood Center. “Easing day-to-day operations resulting in savings that can be put back into programming benefits everyone in the center, and the community.”

The model has also received funding and support from the Birth-to-3rd-Grade Partnership at Cambridge Public Schools. “The Partnership sees it as a way to help early education and care providers save time and money that can then be used to improve program quality,” said Lei-Anne Ellis, Early Childhood Director of the Partnership.

“Family child care centers serve an important market for parents,” said Sunindiya Bhalla, Senior Director for Community Impact at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “They can serve parents who work non-traditional hours and can serve infants and children with special needs – a service that traditional center-based care is often not equipped to deliver. Finally, they disproportionately serve low-income families and families of color.

“Given this track record of success, United Way is confident that a similar effort will be successful, scalable and sustainable in Massachusetts.”


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