Tackling the child care crisis: LELE teammates see child care training need, fill it Tackling the child care crisis: LELE teammates see child care training need, fill it

COVID-19 causes child care closures, but new program trains replacements COVID-19 causes child care closures, but new program trains replacements

July 18, 2022

After COVID-19 hit, Marites MacLean and Beth Robbins noticed a worrying trend: Dozens of child care centers were closing across central Massachusetts. And as families lost reliable child care, local businesses increasingly struggled to fill jobs.

“Day to day, that was the biggest struggle I witnessed (parents) having,” said Robbins, who was helping jobseekers through a local nonprofit called WORK Inc. “They’d be approved for a job, but without child care, they couldn’t move forward.”

At the same time, some community members wanted to open new centers. They approached MacLean, who has decades of experience in the child care industry, but they often got discouraged by language barriers and struggled to navigate the state’s online resources.

To help tackle these issues, MacLean and Robbins created a bilingual program for Massachusetts residents seeking to open child care centers. They launched the program in March, and the first group of about 30 participants graduated in June. Most are preparing to go through the state’s licensing procedures, and there’s already a waitlist for their next session.

The two Fitchburg residents created the program as part of their work with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Leaders for Equitable Local Economies, or LELE, initiative.

The Boston Fed’s Ines Palmarin, a LELE program leader, said the Fitchburg LELE team’s efforts – called The Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program – directly support the Federal Reserve’s work to maximize employment.

“They’re creating new jobs and making sure families can access quality, reliable child care,” said Palmarin, who works in the Bank’s Regional & Community Outreach department. “And by supporting female businessowners and communities of color, they’re creating a more inclusive economy, which is another key mission of the Bank.”

Child care is critical to the economy

The Boston Fed’s LELE initiative supports local leaders who are working to strengthen the economies of smaller cities in Massachusetts. Teams from Fitchburg, New Bedford, Pittsfield, and Worcester each received a $20,000 stipend (funded through philanthropy), coaching, and access to grant money.

The need for affordable, accessible, and high-quality child care in Central Massachusetts is part of a broader national crisis that the Bank explored in its podcast, Six Hundred Atlantic. The eight-week training program MacLean and Robbins designed offers guidance on the licensing process, state resources, inspections, and first aid.

Many of the participants were Spanish-speaking women, and some are immigrants with degrees in early childhood education and child care. They haven’t been able to get jobs in those fields in the U.S. yet, but with the program’s help, hopefully they can, Robbins said.

Funding from partners will be used to expand reach, provide forgivable loans

MacLean and Robbins worked with Fitchburg’s community development leaders to set up a forgivable loan program for Fitchburg residents who need to upgrade their child care spaces to meet state standards. If the spaces become operational, the city will forgive loans of up to $3,500.

MacLean said The United Way of North Central Massachusetts, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and NewVue Communities are among the organizations that supported the new training program.

“LELE helped us get started, and the community as a collective stepped up and gave us more funding so we can be successful in developing the child care workforce,” she said.

The next program session will be given in Spanish and English and begins this month. MacLean and Robbins are also planning to start another group for residents who speak Portuguese.

Learn more about the LELE initiative here.

Listen to the Boston Fed’s podcast on the child care crisis here.

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