LM Live Child Care Crisis Panel Asks Tough Questions, Poses Solutions for NYC Families

05/15/2024 in
LM Live Child Care Crisis Panel Asks Tough Questions, Poses Solutions for NYC Families

Child care in New York City has long been difficult to navigate for working parents, but in the last few years, the system has been pushed to the brink, making it incredibly stressful (and costly) for New Yorkers with children. On Tuesday, May 14, the Downtown Alliance and Better Child Care NYC hosted the “Navigating the Child Care Crisis: Solutions for New York City Families” panel at the Studio at 7 World Trade Center to discuss how individuals and organizations can collaborate to build a child care system that enables all New Yorkers to thrive in the city they love. 

Speakers included Charles Bonello, co-founder and CEO at Vivvi; Dr. Cecilia Scott-Croff, director at BMCC Early Childhood Center Inc and governing board president of the New York Association for the Education of Young Children; and Marjorie Velázquez, vice president of policy at TechNYC. The panel was moderated by Grace Rauh, founding executive director at the 5BORO Institute.

Moderator Rauh set the stage by polling the audience: “How many people are here because child care is either a source of stress in your life or something you’re actively dealing with right now?” Some hands raised. “And how many of you are here because this is an issue of concern to you as an employer?” More hands raised.

Rauh cited stats from the 5BORO Institute’s latest child care report, that more than 80 percent of New Yorkers are unable to afford care for even one child, yet despite the high costs, providers are struggling to stay open. The city has lost 1,400 child care providers since 2015. Due in part to the overwhelming demand and lack of providers, child care in New York City is exorbitantly expensive. Most new parents know this, but few realize just how expensive.

Bonello said the biggest problems contributing to the lack of affordability in child care are staffing and real estate, citing strict regulations in the certified staff per child ratio as well as the current real estate restrictions on spaces above or below the ground floor. “Input costs are what drives the affordability issue,” he said.

Scott-Croff echoed the sentiment around real estate costs, adding that her organization “would not be able to operate if we had to pay rent in our space at BMCC Early Childhood Center.” Since the pandemic, she said her organization has opened up its child care services once reserved solely for student parents to also include faculty and staff because demand is so high. And, crucially, the school has offset all child care costs for student parents since opening the option up to the wider group. “Parents are looking for affordability, proximity and a high quality program,” she said.

In terms of increasing supply, Bonello used the 1,400 daycare centers that have closed in the last nine years as examples of potential new spaces that would be easy to freshen up and reestablish as new centers.

While supply is certainly an issue, Scott-Croff insisted that staffing is equally challenging. “When the staff is stretched so thin and the business owner is so concerned with staying within ratio, it’s hard to create quality programming and cultivate relationships with the children,” she said. Scott-Croff pointed out that child care workers often need their own child care, and making sure seats are available for staffers’ children is a crucial piece of the complex puzzle.

No conversation about New York City’s child care crisis is complete without discussing Article 47, the 2006 addition to the city code which states daycare facilities must be on the ground floor for infant and toddler care — which is also a main point of focus for the Better Child Care NYC coalition. Bonello suggested that if programs could save, ideally, 50 percent on second floor or basement leases, that would be then distributed to the staff paychecks and the families’ savings. “However, there are a million caveats,” he said, “we have to talk in commas when we talk about these things.” 

Scott-Croff believes that instead of lowering requirements to increase the supply of child care centers, pay parity is actually at the forefront of a lot of these issues. As part of the New York Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the group’s main advocacy requests from the state this year was a permanent compensation fund to supplement low wages, help stabilize the current workforce and recruit to the field.

“Low wages have had a profound effect on educators and have impacted the supply of early care and education programs,” she said, citing high staff turnover, lack of quality candidates and ultimately reducing the number of families served. “While I do think finding ways to license spaces to support families is important, not at the risk of wellbeing to families and their children,” she added.

So how does this affect employers? Vivvi ran a recent study that found the ROI for employers offering child care benefits to employees is over 18x. And, as Bonello said, the federal and New York state governments reimburse up to 75 cents on every dollar spent on employee child care costs, yet many companies don’t take advantage of this benefit.

In Velázquez’s eyes, the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing are issues that go hand-in-hand with child care challenges, and are a huge barrier to entry to attracting talent, including tech professionals, to New York City. 

“The only way we can attract more talent and retain more talent is through housing,” Velázquez said, which includes opening up housing to home ownership opportunities and mixed income levels in addition to child care facilities. 

But more supply won’t necessarily fix the problem in a silo. “Knowledge is power,” she said. “There is more work we can be doing by sharing what resources exist and how to access them.” She mentioned Paid Leave AI as a recently developed tool that helps families identify paid family leave benefits available to them and even helps with next steps and paperwork.

In the end, panelists pointed out, the child care crisis is an issue of equity. Scott-Croff stressed that quality child care is not a privilege, but a right. “New York City is an amazing place and we should be the model for this, but we’re not,” she said, “and that’s disheartening.”

Listen to a recording of the full panel here.

Tags: child care crisis

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