Grandmothers providing child care deserve support from state

I’m a Dorchester grandma. I’m still helping take care of my grandkids. And in this month when we celebrate Grandparents’ Day (Sept. 13th), I ask Gov. Baker and state legislators to support low-income grandparents who provide child care. 

Other states have included grandparents and other relatives, friends, and neighbors in their efforts to help low-income parents with child care needs. Massachusetts must do the same.

Many of my fellow members at New England United for Justice (NEU4J) are also working-class grandmothers living in Mattapan and Dorchester. Our neighborhoods have large Black, Brazilian, Cape Verdean, Haitian, and Vietnamese communities. As older women living in communities of color hit hard by the pandemic, we are extremely exposed and vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

Although life is more dangerous for us, our kids and our grandkids need us more than ever. The moms in our communities can’t work from home. They are getting their hours cut or losing their jobs because they can’t find affordable child care. It will only get harder now that school is starting remotely. Some child care programs are offering school-day supervision for kids that can’t stay at home. But my daughter couldn’t afford child care even before the pandemic; how can she afford even more of it now?

I took care of my grandkids every day after school before the pandemic. Sometimes I would drop them off at school and take care of them on weekends, too. The pandemic has changed my family’s child care needs, but my grandkids continue to spend time at my home, and I continue to provide support to my family.

We grandmothers know we are only part of the solution. NEU4J is a founding member of Care That Works, a coalition of grassroot groups and labor unions that organize working parents, nannies, and au pairs, family child care providers, and center-based child care workers. Led by Black, Latinx, Asian, and white women, we fight for justice for all the women taken for granted as caregivers and all the mothers and children held back from their full potential.

Our families need help today, not tomorrow. For a lot of families, for a lot of reasons, grandmothers or other relatives, friends, and neighbors are the only options available right now. We do need to help more families access child care programs, but we should also strengthen child care wherever it’s happening. As for us: We care for our grandkids because we love them and want to be there for our own kids, but we also deserve to be seen and supported for all the work we do.

The governor Baker and state legislators can make that happen. Child care assistance for poor and working-class families can already be used for families that depend on relatives, friends, and neighbors. In other states many families do get assistance for this form of child care. To actually get money to those caregivers in our state, state leaders must do two things:

First, raise progressive revenue for child care and other public services for everyone to recover, not just people who were already fine to begin with.

Second, make payments higher and easier to access for the caregivers. 

Payment can make old setups more dependable, or they can help parents find new caregivers and let more vulnerable caregivers step back for safety. Formalizing the role of grandparents and other caregivers opens the door to organizing materials, training, and other resources for us to provide the best care we can. And more cash will help low-income families recover more quickly.

In the long view, the biggest benefit would be for our state to take a step forward in truly seeing child care as work that benefits everyone — and seeing all child caregivers as workers who deserve respect and support. 

When child care programs closed for three months, grandparents were the first line of backup. That was the first call to include grandparents in the pandemic response, but it wasn’t answered. The start of remote schooling is another clarion call for Gov. Baker and state legislators to pay attention to where the burden of child care is landing. There is no reason to leave grandmothers out of the conversation when so many of the most vulnerable parents and children are depending on us.

Betty McGuire is a member of New England United for Justice.

This article was written with support from Sarah Jimenez, senior researcher with Community Labor United.