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“Equity From The Start” Forum Brings Worcester Families and Local Leaders Together to Craft Community Solutions

Monday, October 30, 2023

When it comes to finding solutions to childcare issues in our local community, the research has been done and the conversations have been had. Now, thanks to the Equity from the Start Forum and support from families and community leaders, research is being turned into action

Dodi Swope, the Project Director for the Together for Kids Coalition reflected on the important work being done at the forum and how it was a pivotal moment between research and action, “We are done admiring the problem. We are ready to move to action and we know that each of you here tonight holds ideas and solutions that we need to raise up.”

Bringing together community leaders and families

On the evening of October 11th, parents, caregivers, educators, and advocates joined together in an interactive session, where they conversed about how to make early childhood resources more accessible and affordable for Worcester families.

The event was hosted by City Manager Eric Baustia in collaboration with the Together For Kids Coalition and Clark University. Families and caregivers were invited to share their experiences with the childcare system, and to elevate awareness about the lack of resources, supply and demand issues, and cost of childcare itself.

City leadership, including City Manager Eric Batisa, Senator Robyn Kennedy, and Dr. Matilde Castiel, sat with community members, caregivers, and parents of young children to dive into the data and identify solutions.

Batista began the evening with a bold call to action, “We are here tonight to move from understanding the problem to developing a set of actionable solutions for our city. We need everyone to make this effort successful. This is not just an issue for families with young children, and those who serve them every day.”

Dr. Matilde “Mattie” Castiel, Commissioner of Health and Human Services for the City of Worcester shared insight about the connection between early education and the Department of Public Health, “Early education and public health’s work are interconnected through their shared goals of promoting the well-being of every young child.”

Dr. Castiel added, “Universal early childhood care is essential in our community to improve the health of the entire family which creates a healthier community.”

Listening to the community to find solutions

Attendees participated in a “Data Walk” to learn what researchers found about Worcester’s early childhood resources (or lack thereof) in several neighborhoods.

“Participating in this event makes me feel that ‘we’ could be part of solutions and resolutions that can impact our work,” shared attendee Dione Santos, local FCC provider. “It was important to feel that we can be more than spectators but we can be part of the structure with ideas that can become regulations.”

A key theme across the research was the lack of accessible and affordable childcare in the neighborhoods of Main South, Vernon Hill, and Bell Hill. Families can’t find care for infants and the cost crushes family budgets.

Even with a median household income of $63,000, childcare for an infant and preschooler is approximately $35,000 per year. Proportionately, families in those neighborhoods pay up to $10,000 more than they should. The cost of care is now surpassing a family’s income, making it not only inaccessible, but also unaffordable.

A report for the 2022-23 school year from Worcester Public Schools showed that 76% of rising kindergarteners had no formal preschool experience. This could be attributed to key barriers keeping families from accessing preschool and early childcare, such as the cost, the 2.5 hour school day, and a lack of transportation when the schools aren’t available near their homes.

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There is a major supply and demand issue across the city. Data shows that there are more children than childcare slots available. For example in Vernon Hill, there are three times as many children aged zero to five than there are childcare slots available. The result? Families languish on long waitlists, with nearly 800 families sitting on an approved waitlist everyday for the past year alone.

Attendees then had the opportunity to discuss solutions to these problems as a group, and ask questions about data points and statistics that stuck out to them.

The data resonated with attendees, and resulted in them sharing their own issues with the system:

My daughter is trying to work full time as a single parent of a 1 year old. Her rent (Worcester rents are outrageous) takes ½ her income from a full time job, plus an extra part time job. Full-time childcare takes another ½ of her income.

I took a pay cut from working at Walmart to become a teacher. I’ve been told, ‘You’d be better off quitting your job and getting on welfare so you can afford childcare.

Sparked by data, a range of ideas emerged

“We are so grateful to the City Manager’s office for hosting the convening, which is a pivotal step and clear commitment to Worcester’s families and young children.” Eve Gilmore, Edward Street CEO addressed the group of attendees. “With families, providers, professionals and advocates, the City will architect a plan, bringing accessible high quality early education and care resources to all of our neighborhoods.”

The next phase of Equity from the Start is to continue developing a plan of action in the community and ensure accountability. The goal is to raise up solutions from the community.

The city needs an early childhood plan that supports healthy beginnings, financially secure families, high quality early learning experiences, a thriving early childhood workforce, a robust system infrastructure, and local partnerships to make it work.

Gilmore added, “Our work forward is to ensure each neighborhood is ready and resourced for young children.”

Attendees began sharing ideas together in real-time. Some early ideas included:

  • Organizing a city-wide advocacy campaign to push state and federal leaders to increase funding
  • Tax incentives/credits for businesses that subsidize childcare
  • City organized transportation solutions
  • Expanding programs that encourage and support individuals to become FCC providers
  • Increasing student exposure to the field through shadowing and increased field placements
  • Bringing business leader voices to the advocacy table
  • Coordinating a website for real-time early childhood options.

The next convening will take place in December, where a draft of the Early Childhood Plan for Worcester will be shared.

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