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Mayor Wu announces establishment of Office of Early Childhood

Michelle Wu, Boston childcare
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu holds her son. Mayor Wu announced Feb. 23 the establishment of the Office of Early Childhood to help integrate Boston’s early education resources and improve the quality and access of child care. MOHAN GE/DFP STAFF

Mayor Michelle Wu announced a new office Feb. 23 to integrate Boston’s early education resources and improve the availability, quality and affordability of child care in the city.

The Office of Early Childhood will prioritize Boston’s children and families by accelerating the establishment of a citywide universal pre-K system, fostering the development of sustainable career paths for early educators, organizing information for City and community programs and providing a single point of access and enrollment for early childhood education and care.

“This is time for City leadership to step up and help convene and provide a one-stop-shop,” Wu said at a press conference held at YMCA, East Boston. “We know that the pandemic has deepened every challenge that the city is facing, and our childcare gaps and access and the stresses on our early educators have certainly deepened as well.”

Wu added Massachusetts has the “second highest costs of childcare” in the nation behind only Washington, D.C., highlighting the need for the newly established office.

According to a 2021 Childcare Census Survey survey, 41% of children sampled are in care arrangements whose cost exceeds 10% of their family’s income.

Cherie Craft, founder and executive director of the family support and community engagement organization Smart from the Start, said kids should have equal access to early education regardless of their family’s financial circumstance.

“There is a real lack of high-quality culturally reflective and affordable childcare for families that don’t have a great deal of money or resources,” Craft said. “And in our communities, it is really difficult for families who are working but don’t make a lot of money to find childcare.”

Alexandra Valdez, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, said the COVID-19 pandemic affected the closures of some childcare businesses.

“We saw a lot of small businesses open, we saw a lot of small businesses closed, but specifically hitting hard on childcare,” Valdez said. “Based on conversations with providers and others that we have seen in the report is the need for more affordable childcare.”

Wu said one of the main challenges of childcare in Boston is ensuring the existing high quality childcare programs are known to family members who are seeking help.

“We know this is an urgent issue for anyone who has had to go through the pandemic with kids, for anyone who has had to try to find a seat in Boston and navigate the many many complicated systems and registrations and applications,” Wu said. “This is time for city leadership to step up and help convene and provide a one-stop-shop.”

Pratima Patil, senior manager of program policy at Boston Opportunity Agenda, said the Childcare Entrepreneur Fund — a grant to fund and offer childcare providers with technology skills to promote their businesses — is an “innovative program.”

“Sometimes in a lot of neighborhoods, families don’t even realize there are childcare options in their neighborhood,” Patil said.

Valdez said the City sets goals to train “every single childcare provider” and make them feel the “empowerment” and “comfortableness” of running a business.

Valdez added the current childcare workforce industry consists primarily of women of color.

“Currently, in our childcare cohorts that the Office of Women’s Advancement is leading, more than 90% of the women who take part in these cohorts are all women of color,” Valdez said. “It just shows you the importance of assuring that we look at everything we do with an equity lens.”

Craft added the office will provide organizations like Smart from the Start with city resources and connections to city agencies like Boston Public Schools and Boston Center for Youths and Families.

“We are able to make  more of a citywide effort and making sure that no child falls between the cracks because we have the resources and the support of the city-wide office,” she said. “So families will have a direct resource or direct connection to the Mayor’s office and that is unprecedented. This is something that we have been fighting for a very long time.”

The City will hire a director to lead the Office of Early Childhood and advance partnership with different departments, according to the press release.

“I can’t wait, with the MOWA, with the city and with our partners, to continue to make those connections, so that we bring in all the sectors together to help families,” Patil said.

Associate City Editor Phoebe Chen contributed to the writing of this article.

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