By Seth Daniel
While there is frequently a lot of emphasis on public schools and private schools, and where parents will send their school-age children, not much attention has been paid to policies surrounding and even more critical time in a child’s life – the years before school.
Four female City Councilors look to change that oversight and apply the spotlight to early childhood education and daycare in the City of Boston – inclusive of every neighborhood – in a series of public meetings in the community starting this month, and continuing throughout the rest of the year.
The meetings will feature a variety of topics and will be led by Council President Michelle Wu, Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Councilor Andrea Campbell and Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George under the umbrella of the Committee on Healthy Women, Families and Community.
“We want to examine cost barriers among other things,” said Wu last Friday in a media briefing. “Massachusetts has the second highest cost in the U.S. for childcare – higher than in-state tuition at our universities and more than rent for many people,” she said. “We’ll talk about affordable childcare and aiming to provide quality childcare and job pathways for childcare providers.”
Councilor Essaibi-George, who will kick off the series of meetings on Feb. 27 in Jamaica Plain, said one of the things that they hope to accomplish beyond supporting low-income families, single-parent homes and homeless children, is to study the issue so as to make sure Boston is seen as a place where growing families can stay. Too often, she and her colleagues said, residents feel that once they have a small child, they need to leave the city to find good early education.
“We need to make sure the City is a place where you can have a growing family and that the City is a place you can stay with your family,” she said. “We are too quickly becoming a City without kids and we want to take some actions to control the policies that cause children and families to leave.”
Councilor Pressley said one innovative idea they are looking at – at least in the early iteration of the effort – is how couples can find a place for an elderly parent and a place for their young children. Often, she said, many families are caring for older adults and young children at the same time.
“We talk a lot about the dawn of life when it comes to early education, but we maybe also need to talk about the twilight of life,” she said. “Many families in the prime of their lives would like to have a situation where they drop off their child and their aging parent in the same place. There is a growing demand for that. The emerging baby boomer population is here…There’s a number of challenges for us and family models are very complicated now.”
Pressley will be leading a discussion in March at Laboure College/Catholic Charities in Dorchester about early education providers and how they can figure into economic development and workforce development.
Pressley said many early education opportunities and childcare centers have low wages and high turnover. She said she wants to find out how many providers there are in the city and look into creating workforce development programs that could improve care and provide long-term career paths or small business opportunities for those working in the industry.
In July, Pressley will lead a discussion on childcare opportunities for those with non-traditional work hours.
“One thing we have learned about this comes from the push for women to be in the trades,” she said. “When talking with the women involved in the trades, we found they faced unique challenges with childcare because construction is not a 9 to 5 job. It has been hard for them to find childcare during their work hours.”
She added, “When we first announced this effort, it was characterized as being something to help struggling moms. In no way are we genderizing this issue. This is for every kind of family facing child care and early education issues. Single fathers do exist. Homeless families are also led by dads too.”
Wu will lead an innovative discussion to end the effort on Nov. 16 where the Committee will discuss how the City can create policies where more on-site childcare is offered in workplaces.
“We would like to see every workplace in Boston offer some childcare on site,” she said. “My son attends the childcare in City Hall. It makes all the difference in the world to know they are right ether at your work. If they have a temperature or you need to go there, it’s right there where you are at. There’s a lot less of a need to miss work if that’s the case.”
Some have suggested that childcare opportunities be used as the Civic Benefit in commercial building projects. Currently, much of the time, such spaces are devoted to community art galleries or community meeting rooms. Wu said the current zoning would not allow Civic Benefits to include child care centers, as they would not be available to everyone.
Essaibi-George will kick off the meetings on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in Horizons for Homeless Children, Jamaica Plain, 1705 Columbus Ave., to speak about childcare and early education for children who are homeless.
Other meetings are as follows:
- March, (Pressley) Community-based providers, Catholic Charities/Laboure Center, Time TBA
- April, (Wu) Funding Childcare, Tuesday, April 11, 6 p.m., Location TBA
- July, (Pressley) Non-traditional work hours, Tuesday, July 18, 3 p.m. in City Hall.
- September, (Essaibi-George), transition to school, Thursday, Sept. 14, 1 p.m. in City Hall.
- October, (Campbell), Geography and Access, Thursday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m. Location TBA.
- November, (Wu), On-site Childcare, Thursday, Nov. 16, 3 p.m., in City Hall.