New York City Mayor Eric Adams has released an ambitious plan to expand subsidized child care and early childhood education programs for his constituents.
In a blueprint released Tuesday, Adams announced a new funding stream totalling $800 million through 2026. That amount, combined with existing spending on child care in the city, amounts to a total public investment of roughly $2 billion. New slots will be made available for an estimated 41,000 children within the next two years, the report states.
“This country and this city wouldn’t function without child care,” Adams stated during a press conference Tuesday. “The more qualitative the product is, the more opportunities we are going to give our children.”
Children’s advocates say the move is long overdue. More than 100,00 children under the age of 5 are enrolled in a city-contracted early childhood education program or receive a voucher for subsidized child care. But not all young children are adequately served and many families languish on waiting lists, making it impossible for heads of households to go to work.
The newly released “Accessible, Equitable, High-quality, Affordable: A Blueprint for Child Care & Early Childhood Education in New York City,” sets five goals that will address the city’s existing, fractured system. The goals include making child care accessible, affordable and rooted in equity; increasing enrollment; ensuring programs are high quality, and establishing systems of support for the early childhood workforce.
In partnership with the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York, the city will also provide early childhood educational professionals with career advancement opportunities and supportive services.
The mayor’s plan also creates a mechanism for oversight and accountability of the child care spending and delivery. A new office at City Hall will be dedicated to early childhood education and child care service delivery. The head of the office will report to Deputy Mayor for Strategic Initiatives Sheena Wright, who will ensure there is a “holistic” and “coordinated” approach.
Lack of child care access in New York City has forced parents to make the difficult choice between going to work and staying home to take care of their children, a predicament that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
More than 500,000 city residents did not seek employment last year because of child care needs, the mayor’s office reports. In addition, roughly 375,000 city parents have chosen or expected to choose to leave or reduce hours at a job because they lack access to affordable child care.
In recent months, families who have been on waiting lists for child care have been contacted as new slots become available. To date, more than 15,000 families have been contacted by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which states it will continue reaching out each month until the waitlist is cleared. They are planning to have it cleared by September 2022.
The children services agency has identified 17 “high-need” neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates, and has prioritized child care assistance in these areas. Going forward, local residents will be able to apply and receive assistance without being placed on a waiting list.
Multiple city agencies that assist low-income families will also conduct outreach and share data to connect eligible parents with child care programs, including the Department of Education, the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development.
“Access to affordable, high-quality child care is a game-changer for families, providing nurturing environments for children to grow and the support parents need to pursue opportunity,” the city’s children and families Commissioner Jess Dannhauser stated in a press release. “We are thrilled to be expanding access to thousands more children in families living throughout the city, including in our most underserved neighborhoods.”
Children who are ineligible for subsidized care due to their immigration status will also be able to receive benefits. Under the mayor’s new plan, $10 million will be spent helping families who do not have legal residency access child care benefits.
A new online portal will allow parents to apply and pay for subsidized child care services without the hassle of the current paper process. The platform will create a “one place and one process and a simple, seamless application for New Yorkers,” Adams’ plan states.
High-quality early childhood education is proven to reduce disparities in education and financial achievement later in life, according to the report. In announcing his plans, the mayor underscored its importance: “The work of caring for a child is the work of life. It’s the basis of a fair, just and inclusive city, a city in which every parent and every child not only has the right to dream, but the ability to make their dreams a reality.”