Story by Marianne Salza
East Boston Social Centers, in collaboration with Charlestown Nursery, presented the Common Start Regional Event on December 18 to explain how the $1.5 billion initiative will improve the lives of parents and children by helping them thrive in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Elected officials and educators proposed creating more affordable childcare and increasing pay for early educators to advance economic growth.
“We are fighting for the Common Start vision to ensure that all families have access to affordable, high quality education and childcare,” affirmed emcee, Representative Adrian Madaro, co-sponsor for Common Start legislation. “Common Start addresses several key principles: it provides financial assistance to enable more families to afford and access high quality, early education. It prioritizes families at or below 85% of the state median income. It calls for significant increases in pay for early educators, and provides funding for providers to cover costs that are not met by subsidy reimbursement rates and parent fees.”
Additionally, the bill includes elements to increase racial and gender equity in the early education and childcare field, such as loan forgiveness, grant fairness, and cultural competence and bias training.
“I recognize for young parents, this is the first time you’re trusting strangers with the care and education of your children. That can be daunting and overwhelming,” acknowledged Madaro, father of two, young sons. “It’s one of the most important decisions we can make early on, as parents. We want all families to have access to quality childcare, regardless of their ability to pay; and a workforce that feels respected and valued for the critical work they do in providing the foundation for the future of our children.”
More than 20,000 children in Massachusetts are on a waiting list for a childcare subsidy, according to Madaro, who feels that immediate, long-term funding is necessary to provide all children with an equal start in life.
Madaro noticed that the high cost of childcare is causing families to relocate out of Massachusetts, and believes that the issue has become a threat to the economic competitiveness of the state.
“We’ve heard from constituents here in East Boston – mostly women – who, coming out of the pandemic, were ready to work in the early education sector; yet couldn’t afford to send their own kids to daycare,” Madaro revealed.
Many early education and childcare providers are finding it difficult to remain open and maintain fully-staffed classrooms. Employers are struggling because their staff is unable to find affordable, early childcare; and educators are leaving their positions due to low wages.
“Our workforce is changing over dramatically because people can’t support themselves. People who are in the early education workforce are often the people in public assistance programs. It is outrageous that this is just a stepping stone and not a career,” admonished Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Half the group stays for 20 years because they love the work and have found a way to make it work; then there is the other half that turns over every year. We have to change that narrative. We’re on the cusp of something big. It’s important to stand united in this.”
East Boston has one of the fastest growing youth populations; and according to Senator Lydia Edwards, families are larger than in any other section of the City of Boston. She believes that Common Start is vital for families to remain in the state, and that early childcare opportunities are important to teach children about life skills.
“It’s a cycle of affordability. Families don’t know what to do. Do they pick up another shift to pay the rent, but then have to find a place for their children,” questioned Edwards. “Afterschool programming is a supplement for kids who do not necessarily have love, or may not have a home to go to. It’s a place for them to feel safe.”
Provider, Thara Fuller, Executive Director, John F. Kennedy Family Service Center, also believes that increasing professional development is critical to having the tools to address the needs of children and staff.
“The childcare system is not just for people with kids – it’s a whole infrastructure,” declared Fuller. “We need business partners, too. We need to all work together. It is essential.”
Single mother of three, Jaqueline Carmenatty – accompanied by her Sprouts Early Childcare student, Luca — has worked at East Boston Social Centers for 19 years, and expressed how the organization has made an impact for her family.
“This journey has been meaningful in my life,” shared Carmenatty. “I recently became a home owner; and because of the pay rate that this provides me, I have comfortability.”
East Boston Social Centers has been supporting the community for 105 years. Today it serves 161 early leaners and 159 children in its school-age program. Ninety percent of families receive a form of financial support based on income or other needs.
“We provide high quality curriculum, robust family engagement, transportation, and high quality meals, provided and prepared on site,” described Justin Pasquariello, Executive Director, East Boston Social Centers. “We’re grateful to our partners and supporters in legislation, who have made historic investments in the field. We’re fortunate to be in Massachusetts and have this great commitment. The work is not done. There is a need for high quality, affordable, early education and care for all children, taught by equitably-paid teachers.”