At a press conference last Wednesday Mayor Michelle Wu said, for anyone who has had to try to find an early childhood education seat in Boston navigating the many complicated systems, registrations and applications can be a daunting task.
“This is time for city leadership to step up and help provide a one stop shop,” said Mayor Wu. “We know that the pandemic has deepened every challenge that the city is facing, and our childcare gaps in access and the stresses on our early educators have certainly deepened as well. In Boston, and in Massachusetts, we have the second highest cost of childcare anywhere around the country and we continue to see the impacts of that ripple throughout our communities, throughout our economy and throughout our city.”
To combat this Wu announced the creation of the Office of Early Childhood to advance the administration’s commitment to universal, affordable, high-quality early education and care for all children under five. The new office will expand access to early education and childcare programs, invest in Boston’s early education and care workforce, and serve as a central point-of-entry for residents looking for information on early education and childcare programming and wraparound services for young children and their families.
The Office will address needs highlighted in Boston’s 2021 Childcare Census Survey report, which the Mayor also released Wednesday.
“We conducted this census just to understand the needs and realities of our Early Education and Care ecosystem from families and educators,” said Wu. “We are here to report back that unsurprisingly, the vast majority of families who participated in the Census reported that they are looking for formalized care, but having trouble finding it. Many of our families are relying on some informal arrangement, often with a family member, often not covering enough hours that are needed (for parents to work).”
Wu said 81 percent undergoing this kind of informal arrangement are women and this is impacting their own careers and their own professional development.
“The costs are high,” said Wu. “The need is great, but the opportunity is tremendous right now as well. So it is time to truly tackle root causes and understand just how much our child care infrastructure is the foundation for families to thrive all across our city and beyond.”
The Office will advance the Mayor’s work to prioritize the City’s youngest residents and their families by: Accelerating the creation of a universal pre-K system that stretches across Boston Public Schools (BPS), community-based organizations, and family-based childcare programs, and expanding high-quality, affordable options for infants and toddlers; Creating a one-stop shop for enrollment and access to early education and childcare programs by building an accessible, multilingual platform so that options are clear, streamlined, and accessible to all families; Investing in the early education and childcare workforce by building sustainable career pathways that recognize early educators as professionals who are essential to young children’s wellbeing; Coordinating outreach and information for City and community programming that impacts the lives of young children and their families.
Wu said the city will be hiring a leader of the new Office of Early Childhood to advance this work in partnership with the Boston Public Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, the Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Centers for Youth and Families, other City departments, and community organizations that serve Boston’s children and families.
“We are excited to deepen the City’s investment in high-quality, accessible childcare solutions for early childhood professionals, families, and their little ones,” said Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement Alexandra Valdez. “The Office of Early Childhood will continue the work of looking at closing child care gaps with community voices at the center. This will not only create opportunities to further support a child’s care needs and early development, but also empower a profession that is largely represented by women, specifically women of color, and our immigrant community.”
Wu added that Boston Public Schools has led the way in building out a mixed-delivery system for universal pre-K (UPK) that integrates both BPS classrooms and community-based organizations. In its third year, the UPK program currently serves 664 pre-K students through 21 community-based organizations across 32 program sites; 2,556 non-special education K1 seats for 4-year-olds, and 880 special education seats for 3- and 4-year-olds in K0/K1.
In 2021, UPK expanded to include a pilot program to serve 3-year-olds in addition to 4-year-olds in 2021-22. For the upcoming school year in 2022-23, Boston UPK plans to expand to serve up to 930 children at community provider settings, including 600 4-year-olds and 330 3-year-olds. The City of Boston and Boston Public Schools recently released an Invitation for Bids (IFB) to identify additional community-based organizations seeking to join the UPK program. The IFB deadline is April 4, and more details can be found on the BPS Universal Pre-K website.
By investing in and growing the early educator workforce, supporting early education and childcare businesses, and streamlining information and access for families, the Office of Early Childhood will support UPK’s continued expansion by increasing the number of seats available to infants and toddlers.
“I am grateful to Mayor Wu and her team and all who have worked so hard to advance this work on behalf of our children and their families,” said Chair of the Boston School Committee Jeri Robison. “As someone who has dedicated my entire career to ensuring enhanced access to all-inclusive early education and care, I am heartened today to see this important next step in our City’s progress. We are sending a message to our families today that Boston is united in our work to help our youngest learners get off to the right start through new support to them and their families.”