It began with two pregnant women who gave birth within days of each other. Then it moved on to both of them contemplating how their lives and careers would change with the current childcare crisis. But, instead of accepting the hurdles and adapting to manage them, the two women, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy and Sarah Siegel Muncey, quit their day jobs and established Neighborhood Villages.
More On Neighborhood Villages
Neighborhood Villages is a non-profit organization that advocates for solutions to problems facing care providers, early childhood educators, and administrators—the group partners with five childcare centers in the Boston area. The collective is called The Neighborhood, a test lab with programs introduced and tested for statewide use. The primary goal is to create an infrastructure that develops a “high-quality, affordable, and equitable early education and care system.” The secondary objective is the creation of such a program.
What They Had To Say
According to Muncey, she and Kennedy joined forces as she was working in K-12 schools, and Kennedy was in healthcare policy. “You need the policy and the money behind a government program, and then you need the operations for it to actually work,” Muncey explains. “That’s what we’re really experts in, so neither of us felt this was impossible,” Kennedy says; the pair put a lot of thought into what they were getting into and what they hoped to achieve. “We spent a very long time really thinking through the contribution we could make to this dialogue about the imperative to fix the childcare crisis on so many different levels.”
It Was Tough Going At The Start
When launching Neighborhood Villages, there were many conversations with several companies where the point that Kennedy and Muncey tried to get across was logical. Recruiting and retaining high-quality staff depends on having good childcare. The response was minimal. They explain, “It was sort of like a pat on the head, thanks for coming in, and one day we’ll become interested in little kids, but today’s not that day.” Fast forward to today: there are 27 team members in Neighborhood Villages, and the organization funds its activities through government grants, various contracts, corporate donations, and other contributions from individuals and foundations.
What They Do At Neighborhood Villages
The team at Neighborhood Villages continues to bring classes and training to those who need it, teachers and program directors. Other activities include distributing food to families, advocating for childcare policy reform, and coaching teachers one-to-one. Despite this progress, one major hurdle is blocking quality child care. Muncey says it is money. “If there were going to be a silver bullet to save early education, we would start by paying teachers professional wages.” However, she points out that tuition for families would also have to increase for this to happen.
In the Boston region, child care currently costs in the range of $30,000 annually. However, Muncey adds that public policy can fix the situation and take pressure off of parents. “We will never solve this crisis without public dollars and treating child care like a public good.”
COVID-19 Infrastructure Development and Testing
Then there was the pandemic. Adding to the already stretched childcare industry, COVID-19 shone a bright light on the problem as it suddenly became clear to companies across the nation. It was back in March 2020 when COVID restrictions were commonplace with lockdowns, closures, reduced access, and countless other directives that saw many workers either lose jobs or experience reduced hours. Employers everywhere struggled with retaining staff, and employees told their bosses they could not return to work unless the company they worked for solved their childcare crisis.
The pandemic was devastating on many levels. Regarding child care, estimates place the impact at close to 10 percent of early childhood educators no longer in the industry when forced to leave their jobs to care for their children. Neighborhood Villages took this situation and created a pilot program called COVID-19 pool-testing for teachers.
In simple terms, the project combined samples from multiple individuals and had lab tests conducted on that combined sample to detect the coronavirus. The point of this was to decrease the volume of tests required. In addition, the idea was that it would eliminate individuals in the pools that did not have positive results from further testing or isolation.
How They Spread The Word
Kennedy and Muncey joined forces with Lemonada Media in the summer of 2020 and launched the “No One Is Coming To Save Us” podcast. The concept was to increase awareness of early childhood education and childcare issues. Topics covered include how to transform the broken childcare system, high-profile moms discussing their needs for child care, and ways parents can acknowledge they require assistance. The podcast recently began its second season.
As brutal as the pandemic was on an already suffering industry, it inspired innovation and attracted attention to the problems within the childcare system. Podcast host Gloria Riviera says it best when discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the childcare industry. “The resilience of moms and families pulling together to make do in a broken system is truly incredible.” However, she also emphasizes that resilience is not a childcare system.
For all their efforts, Kennedy and Muncey had made great strides in shedding light on a challenging problem that will solve itself. But, unfortunately, the childcare crisis is here to stay until legislators take a long, hard look at the connection between child care and productivity on the job for the parents who require the service. Neighborhood Villages is working hard to bridge the gap within the broken system, but lawmakers must step in and get involved.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.
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