Childcare assessment offers targeted solutions for Cape Cod and the Islands
Supported by $200,000 in state funding, the Cape Cod Commission collaborated with Barnstable County and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy to conduct a survey-based needs assessment related to early education and childcare for Cape Cod and the Islands.
Communities throughout Cape Cod and the Islands have long contended with challenges related to the provision of quality, affordable childcare and early education services. While these challenges have immediate effects within the childcare and early education industries, they also threaten the region's economic stability and the economic status of women, children, and families.
The project aimed to better understand existing levels of provision and needs in the early education and childcare industries, identify gaps in services, and explore potential strategies for improving the accessibility of services in the region.
The assessment was informed by existing research and two surveys: one of families with small children and the second of childcare providers. Input from both groups was critical to better understanding gaps in access to childcare.
The results show that childcare is difficult to access, expensive, and is causing parents to make changes to their work schedules and even consider leaving Cape Cod or the Islands. According to the Economic Policy Institute, annual infant care costs approximately $21,000, 45% more than the average annual housing cost in Massachusetts. Over 60% of all respondents find it somewhat or very difficult to find childcare within their budget, with almost one-third of respondents paying between $1,000 and $1,999 per month for childcare. Nearly half of all respondents (46%) said an adult in their household has made significant changes at work, such as shortened work hours, reduced to part-time, changed to working from home, or even quit their job, to care for their children and 30% of respondents have considered moving away from the Cape and Islands.
Providers are facing challenges finding and retaining qualified staff to support their centers, a problem that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Prior to March 2020, only 12% of respondents frequently or very frequently experienced staff turnover. This percentage has risen to 23% since March 2020. Employees are leaving their jobs due to low salaries and high housing costs: 2/3 of provider survey respondents reported average annual salaries of $35,000 or less for full-time childcare providers at their center, and 47% cited a lack of available housing as a contributor to staff turnover.
“The need to design local and regional strategies to help children, families, and providers is critical to our residents and the local and regional economy,” said Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Kristy Senatori. “This assessment provides us with the data we need to move forward with targeted solutions. We appreciate the support of our forward-thinking legislative delegation as we work together to improve childcare in the region.”
In order to turn the tide for childcare on the Cape and Islands, the report recommends that state and local stakeholders work to expand access to affordable early childhood programming, particularly for families who are financially strained yet over-income for vouchers and strengthen salaries and benefits for early education and care staff.
The report identifies several areas for high-impact investment and action. On the local level, recommendations include:
- Provide town residents with childcare scholarships: Levy taxes for childcare needs and partner with local providers or school districts to connect families to open slots, financial assistance, or centralized systems. The report provides Cape-specific examples and case studies.
- Support affordable housing options for childcare workers: Private developers and public housing authorities can partner to create subsidized housing properties for early childhood workers.
- Invest in new early education programs in desert areas: Local organizations and public offices can provide low-rent spaces and funding for programs to operate within communities of need.
- Engage employers to help recruit and retain parents in the workforce: State and local agencies can engage the business community to identify and promote employer best practices and explore incentives for employers to support additional early education and care benefits for the employees.
Recommendations also include recruiting current community members to fill roles in early education and childcare and collaborating with local educational institutions to ensure early childcare educators have access to professional development and continued education. Opportunities exist for businesses to partner with educational institutions to support ongoing learning and ultimately increase access to childcare and early education for employees.
“The Cape Cod Commission’s report clearly illustrates that the most significant barriers to accessing early education and childcare for most families are cost and scope of availability. Faced with waitlists for childcare and increasing financial demands, parents are put in a tough position when it comes to deciding how to prioritize their day-to-day lives and plan for the future,” said Senator Susan Moran. “The Legislature has worked to lessen this burden with ideas including targeting program stabilization by supporting small childcare business owners, increasing childcare workforce compensation, adding education options to increase employee pipeline, and growing system infrastructure and local partnerships through legislation like An Act to expand access to high-quality, affordable early education and care, of which I was a primary sponsor. Affordable childcare is critical to keeping parents, especially women, on their career paths, to creating better educational outcomes for our children, and reducing costs for working families. I look forward to continuing to ensure that families have the resources to receive childcare services that fit their needs.”
“The Cape Cod Commission’s childcare needs-based assessment provides a comprehensive look at and sheds light on how severe an impact the lack of affordable childcare and early education services has on our children, working families, and childcare providers on Cape Cod,” said Representative Sarah Peake. “I was proud to help fund this study. I look forward to ensuring our needs on the Cape and Islands are met as the legislature moves forward with a comprehensive reform package and funding.”
The report recommends that state and federal governments continue to fund state subsidies and other programs, expand access to vouchers and subsidized programming, and continue to offer grant and relief programs to get providers back on their feet and increase pay and benefits for early educators.
The full report is available online at: https://capecodcommission.org/our-work/childcare.