This Funder Sees Child Care as a Key to Bolstering Economic Justice for Women

Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)“I would like to pursue my career, but it’s hard because I need to put my children first.”

How many women can relate to that statement? And what does it say about the basic foundation of our economy when women are so often put in the position of either advancing their own economic welfare, or being the mainstay caretakers for their children?

Now contemplate this: What if those who care for our children were fully valued for the crucial investment they make in our society? What if more families had access to the child care they need to work to their fullest extent? What if more children felt cared for and were engaged in high-quality settings, ready to head into kindergarten, with parents who felt supported by quality child care professionals?

This is the Ms. Foundation’s vision of where we need to go—toward a nation where quality child care is central to a healthier economy.

We haven't written much about child care at Inside Philanthropy, for the simple reason that surprisingly few funders work this beat. Even though it's a huge issue for working families, child care tends to fall through the funding cracks. Human service funders have other, more urgent fish to fry—like healthcare, food and housing, while funders focused on economic mobility often have their hands full supporting workforce development and education. Also, when funders think about our small children, they tend to focus on early childhood education—which is a closely related challenge, but different, since such programs tend not to kick in till children are at least three. The Kellogg Foundation, a longtime funder on child care, is the most notable exception here among national funders, as we've discussed. 

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Then there is the Ms. Foundation, which recently announced its ongoing support for 13 organizations working at the grassroots across the country for increased quality, accessibility and affordability of child care. This is the foundation’s fifth year of providing grants through its Economic Justice program to support organizations advocating for structural changes to the child care systems across the country.

The Ms. Foundation reports a total of $2 million in grants since 2012 within its child care portfolio to a range of grassroots organizations working at the local, state and national levels to increase access and affordability of child care. Organizations must have a strong approach to advocating for structural change in funding and developing child care as a profession, and to ensure access to child care for parents in need. As a point of comparison, the Ms. Foundation has made a total of $5.2 million in grants since 2010 for its reproductive justice portfolio, providing support to state-based organizations fighting for access to reproductive health care services.

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The strategy, here, aims for a triple bottom-line effect: more kids learning and engaged early in life, more teachers employed in high-quality jobs, and more women participating fully in the economy.

“Improving our nation’s childcare systems will have a compound effect: advancing women's economic security, promoting educational advancement for future generations and improving the economy overall,” said Aleyamma Mathew, Director of Women’s Economic Justice. “Increasing access to quality childcare, raising childcare funding, and building the quality of the childcare workforce is essential to supporting women’s economic justice and security.” 

Grantees range widely in terms of their specific focus on child care, and include organizations like the Center for Frontline Retail in New York, a worker’s rights advocacy organization for the retail trade, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to “improve wages and working conditions for the nation's 10 million restaurant workers.”

Other grantees are working more directly on professional development and advocacy in the child care field, such as All Our Kin, based in New Haven, Connecticut, which elevates child care to a more central status in family and community life. In a press release about the grants, Ms. Foundation President and CEO Teresa C. Younger emphasized the range of organizations that the foundation is working with to push for structural changes on child care. She also noted that the foundation invests in “women and women-led organizations, particularly women of color, as key drivers of policy change, and our focus on child care is no exception.”

2016 grantees include:

Adhikaar (Woodside, New York)

African Communities Together (Bronx, New York)

All Our Kin, Inc. (New Haven, Connecticut)

Center for Frontline Retail (New York, New York)

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (Baltimore, Maryland)

Childspace Management Group (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Garment Worker Center (Los Angeles, California)

Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative (Biloxi, Mississippi)

Mujeres Unidas y Activas (San Francisco, California)

OLÉ Education Fund (Albuquerque, NM)

Parent Voices, a project of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network (San Francisco, California)

Puget Sound Sage (Seattle, Washington)

Restaurant Opportunities Center United (New York, New York)