By Barbara Taormina
Congresswoman Katherine Clark seemed right at home this week with the tiny chairs and little tables where fresh blue and green finger paint creations were laid out to dry. Clark spent Tuesday morning at Head Start on Commercial Street visiting with students, parents and staff to hear more about the local program, and to highlight the need for affordable childcare, which she is pushing for through her legislation, the 21st Century Child Care Investment Act.
Action for Boston Community Development, the regional human services organization that oversees the federally funded local Head Start program, opened the new Malden-based learning center last year, and 120 children are now enrolled in the program designed to prepare them for success when they move on to kindergarten and elementary school.
Clark began her visit by reading a story to a group of children and chatting with them about their favorite books and colors. She then sat down with a group of parents and staff members, who shared some of their stories about their families and about the Head Start program.
“I do a lot of work on childcare; it’s one of the biggest issues facing families,” Clark told the group. “Moderate-income families have a really hard time finding affording childcare.”
According to Clark, the average cost of infant care in Massachusetts is just over $17,000 a year while parents pay an average of about $13,000 for childcare for a four-year-old.
The 21st Century Child Care investment Act would establish refundable tax credit programs which would be allocated to childcare providers each month, a system that helps families that struggle with paying monthly bills. The credits would be available on a sliding scale for families earning up to 400 percent of the set poverty level and could be worth as much as $14,000 a year.
Several women spoke about their experiences volunteering at Head Start and going on to school to earn early childcare certificates in order to work at Head Start and other childcare programs.
“Most of the professionals in childcare are women, and the pay scale is different,” said Clark. “We need to give kids the best possible start, and it really helps to support the workforce.”
Clark’s bill would ensure that employee pay is considered as part of the overall effort to boost the quality of affordable childcare. The 21st Century Child Care investment Act would also introduce new educational standards for childcare providers that would be phased in over a five-year period.
Clark is a big fan of Head Start, which stresses activities and experiences that help children develop emotional and cognitive skills. Head Start also focuses of the nutritional needs of children and the general well-being of their families.
“Head Start looks at children and families holistically,” said Clark, adding that she is on the Appropriations Committee in Congress and always fighting for funding for the program.
“If we want a strong economy, we need to invest in these children now,” she said. “We need a skilled workforce, and starting early is the best investment we can make.”