Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) may have found a solution to the District’s severe shortage of licensed child-care providers. Infant care in the District reached a crisis point late last year when projections showed 7,600 licensed child care slots for more than 22,000 children. The solution would offer $15 million to address the shortage through competitive grants.
“To keep families in D.C., we will have to attract more quality child care options, and I have challenged my team to design a program to incentivize the creation of 1,300 more infant and toddler child care opportunities across D.C. over the next 3 years,” Bowser said at a press conference on April 10.
It is estimated the grants could increase availability by roughly 20 percent, and afford parents access to providers through a single, online portal. Bowser said the measure would also fund a pool of competitive grants worth between $250,000 and $1 million to be awarded to 20 to 50 providers. These grants could be used for staffing and expansion of facilities or as seed money for new centers.
“Anywhere I go – whether it’s Cleveland Park or Anacostia – parents tell me how hard it is to get their kids into childcare. This year, we will make a new investment: an additional $3.6 million to improve childcare. But that still isn’t enough,” Bowser said. “I have charged the deputy mayor for education and the deputy mayor for health and human services to convene a working group to come up with recommendations to expand childcare and early childhood opportunities, so we can give every child, and every family, a strong start.”
Louise Sands, who operated a daycare center in her home in Congress Heights for more than 30 years, told the AFRO that much of the crisis grew from requiring childcare providers to have college degrees as part of their certification, subsequently keeping many qualified care providers from being licensed. “I applaud the city for trying to put checks and balances in place to ensure quality care, but sometimes we attempt to fix what is not broken and actually create new problems. The young ladies who worked with me were trained in CPR, they had participated in early childhood development clinics, but they did not have college degrees,” Sands said. “In the end, it cost too much to remain open.”
Still others, including Howard University student Jennifer Lowery, said they believe that the highest quality professional should be sought when building care for infants and small children. “We are only beginning to understand how crucial that birth to 3-year span is in the cognitive and emotional development of children, and putting our most vulnerable in the hands of anyone who is not thoroughly vetted and learned, spells disaster,” Lowery, an early childhood development junior, told the AFRO. “The Mayor’s plan sounds responsible and forward-thinking, which is what we need for our child advocates.”
Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles said that the proposal was welcomed by advocates, who have fielded many concerns from residents about the shortage and its resulting long wait lists. Niles said it’s not clear whether those facilities would be offered for a fee or at no cost to child-care providers. The plan would also make space available in three city-owned or leased buildings for child care facilities. Providers would be able to apply for space in those facilities.
Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray (D), along with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Councilmembers Robert White (D-At-large), Anita Bonds (D-At-large), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and Brandon Todd (D-Ward4) have called on the deputy mayor for health and human services to produce a more extensive expansion of healthcare for infants and toddlers (to age 3) that includes a childcare component. Under the Councilmembers’ proposal, patient-centered care to pregnant women, new mothers, and babies to prevent peripartum mental health problems and enhance the overall parent-child relationship is incorporated. It also includes parenting skills and Office of the State Superintendent of Education oversight in government-owned childcare facilities operated in Wards 7 and 8.