On May 9, 2022, Kathleen Walsh, President and CEO of the YMCA of Metro North, along with Senator Jason Lewis (D-5th Middlesex) and Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian [D-32nd  Middlesex] co-hosted a roundtable discussion, “Families at Work: The New Realities of Business and Child Care,” with parents of children in early education and employers like Kelly Corbi, President of Melrose Wakefield Hospital. The roundtable was the second part in a series of discussions coordinated by the YMCA of Metro North to highlight the issues business and families face navigating the complex intersection issues of families getting back to work and the availability of quality, convenient, and affordable child care.

See Families at Work: Part 1: https://www.ymcametronorth.org/news/asst-speaker-clark-joins-ymcas/

Many parents talked about their experience with early learning centers. They expressed their challenges of getting back to business as usual with the early education system still reeling from the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Kerry Bryant, a working parent said, “the hours are really tough, and they know that’s a side effect of staffing (post-pandemic), but five o’clock is really early pick up time to realistically be there and know you’re not going to be late. It’s really difficult to get in a full day of work during work hours. So, our family tends to be a later drop-off family, but being able to have our kids there till say 5:30 or 6:00 would probably allow me to actually wrap up my day, more days than not. Just the normal routine for us now is bedtime and another hour or more of work, which isn’t really great for my well-being and my sanity. It doesn’t necessarily feel sustainable.”

Lauren Sendley, another working parent recalls her difficulty remaining at work because of reduced child care options. She recalls, “I actually had to leave my job at Dana-Farber and I went to work at Wakefield, seeing patients in the breast center. And, then that was at the start of the pandemic and the support for, I think women and child care is really tough in the workplace, especially in healthcare, which is half of the Boston area is in healthcare.”

Sen. Lewis and Rep. Lipper-Garabedian provided a legislative update to families and discussed solutions, new ideas, and policies that are aimed at reforming the early education system in Massachusetts.

Senator Jason Lewis said, “If you look at other advanced countries, Europe, Canada, Australia, they don’t treat early education the way we do, which is basically that you are left to fend, families are left to fend for themselves. They understand that it should be viewed as a public good. The way that, a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, we made the determination actually here in Massachusetts, that K through 12 education should be a public good, but before then, only certain children and certain families had access to public education.

But we recognized that was critical to function with our society and our democracy. Today, we totally take that for granted. No one questions whether every child should have access to a free and affordable quality public education. I believe that we should have the same vision when it comes to early education and care.”

Read Senator’s statement on new policy recommendations and reforms to early education: https://senatorjasonlewis.com/2022/03/16/special-legislative-commission-issues-report-with-policy-recommendations-for-major-early-education-and-care-reforms/

Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian offered, “the one thing I wonder about, too is just our regulatory framework. I’m actually a former teacher, then I went to law school. I’ve been an education attorney for over a decade. I was chief legal counsel at the Executive Office of Education, which supported the Department of Early Education and Care, DESE which is K12 and higher ed. And so I have a better sense of the K12 and how we compare to other countries, but really interested, and not surprised to hear some differences from other developed countries. I say all that, to say what does our regulatory framework look like? Are there ways in which we need to be more innovative? Are there some things that we have that are well-intentioned but that are really holding back some different models of early education and care? I think about this.” See more of Rep. Lipper-Garabedian’s Community Conversations: https://www.ymcametronorth.org/news/early-education-and-care/

Kathleen Walsh added,  “What we don’t do in this country and we’ve spoken about that is put early learning as a priority, early learning is, I got to find daycare for my kids. It’s not what is the best educational opportunity for my young learner.”

You can learn more about the YMCA’s advocacy efforts on their website: https://www.ymcametronorth.org/news/