Investing in child care infrastructure can be transformative

Funds can help children, parents, and local economies

CHILD CARE is vital to our economy. This has never been more apparent than over the past 18 months as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and child care centers across the Commonwealth – and the country. Parents and families rely on child care to work each day, and businesses rely on those employees to stay open and operational. The hope and expectation is that their children receive education and care in a safe and healthy environment that enables them to learn, socialize, and develop. The quality of these spaces is a crucial component of program quality.

Child care is essential, yet the nation’s system has faced scarce funding for decades. The physical infrastructure has suffered, as evidenced by a 2011 report by Children’s Investment Fund, which discovered that many child care centers in Massachusetts lacked necessities like efficient ventilation systems, sinks in classrooms for handwashing, adequate outdoor play spaces, and sufficient natural light.

Unfortunately, 10 years later, many child care centers throughout the Commonwealth still require much-needed investment to provide the high-quality care children and their educators deserve. While Children’s Investment Fund has provided support, training, and investments to centers, more work is to be done. The infrastructure challenges facing child care centers were made even more apparent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, exposing the need to upgrade facilities to include proper ventilation and enough play and learning spaces that enable social distancing.

Children’s Investment Fund recently released a report, Building Quality: Transforming Early Learning Environments in Massachusetts, reflecting on the organization’s 30 years of work and highlighting the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund created in 2013 together with the Department of Early Education and Care. The report rebrands the program as the Building Quality Capital Fund. Since its establishment, the Building Quality Capital Fund has invested a total of $39.2 million in child care facilities across Massachusetts, including $7.5 million in additional grants announced this summer to address emergency COVID-related needs.

Over half of the facilities are located in Gateway Cities. Ensuring that safe, viable child care facilities exist in these cities will only further efforts to revitalize these cities, support workers, and support their local economies.

One of the grantees, For Kids Only Afterschool, received a $400,000 award to help construct an afterschool building in Revere to serve up to 140 children. The funds allowed the organization to move from a leased storefront with no outdoor play space to a brand-new building with a commercial kitchen, large gym, and better ventilation. The impact on the program was transformative. The ample space, operable windows, and outdoor space became essential once the COVID-19 pandemic hit years later.

Not all environments produce equal results for all children. Through research and our 30 years of experience, Children’s Investment Fund has learned that child well-being is enhanced when facilities incorporate spacious classrooms, a bathroom in each room, natural light, indoor and outdoor play areas, and proper ventilation. The Building Quality Capital Fund has demonstrated that these improvements are possible and that a mix of public and private funding can achieve these results. The funding has helped improve learning environments for over 9,000 children, more than 80 percent of whom live in low-income households.

For the first time in decades, our society seems to understand the value of child care in our communities. Most parents need to work, and their children need stimulating environments that support their healthy social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development during the long hours spent away from home.  We must continue to raise the bar for our children and support the organizations who care and educate them as they seek to revitalize their spaces to provide high-quality learning environments. We have an opportunity to meet the moment and give these centers the investments and tools they need.

Meet the Author

Theresa Jordan

Director, Children's Investment Fund
Building Quality is the future – a world where substantial investment in child care infrastructure helps transform learning opportunities for children and their families.

Theresa Jordan is director of the Children’s Investment Fund.