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Cathy Creighton with Rusty Weaver at the Regional Town Gown conference

Buffalo Co-Lab Headlines Regional Town-Gown Conference

The ILR Buffalo Co-Lab's march report, The Status of Child Care in New York State, was the cornerstone of the Cornell Office of Community Relations’ ninth Regional Town-Gown Conference held April 9 at the Hotel Ithaca.

The event, “Child care: Issues and Innovations,” hosted about 80 participants, including Cornell experts and community leaders, including Nora Yates, Deputy Commissioner of the state Division of Child Care Services Office of Children and Family Services, who provided the keynote address, and Stacey Dimas, the chief of staff for state Sen. Lea Webb (D-52nd District).

Other participants included individuals representing Cornell Human Resources, including Christine Lovely, Cornell’s VP and Chief Human Resource Officer, who opened the conference, as well as numerous professors from across Cornell University, Empire State College and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The Ithaca Chamber of Commerce, Ithaca College’s director of human resources, child care providers, workers, activists and teachers also attended.

“Child care challenges are impacting families, employers and employees across the region,” said Susan Riley, interim director of community relations at Cornell. “April's Town-Gown conference, ‘Child care: Issues and Innovations,’ shared the perspectives and insights from professionals and academics around the region."

Experts from the Co-Lab, presented its report and was followed by a question-and-answer segment led by Cathy Creighton, Co-Lab director, Russell Weaver, research director, and Steve Peraza, research associate.

“Events such as the Town-Gown are unique in bringing together voices from across a broad spectrum,” Creighton said. “This event allowed the ‘ivory tower’ to put its land-grant mission into action and provide the community with access to valuable research, data and reports to understand what is happening in their industry and promote policy changes.”

The Co-Lab’s report relied in part upon ILR’s Empire State Poll, which showed that New Yorkers favor universal child care with a well-paid workforce. Findings include:

  • New Yorkers across all political affiliations overwhelmingly favor universal child care.
  • New Yorkers across all political affiliations overwhelmingly support higher wages for child care on par with entry-level teachers.
  • Almost two-fifths of New Yorkers with children are giving up paid work because of child care, and 76% of those parents forego working due to the high cost or unavailability of child care.
  • Taking workers out of the workforce is exacerbating labor shortages.
  • Investing in child care provides a significant return on investment, as for every dollar spent, almost $2 comes back into the economy.
  • Child care workers who left during the pandemic are not returning to work in child care because it is such a low-paid job, often with no benefits.

Creighton noted, “Anyone who is a parent living in the U.S. does not need a study from Cornell University to tell them that child care is hard to find and too expensive to afford, but this study backs that up those feelings. It’s clear that major changes are needed to resolve the child care crisis.”

The second session was led by John Sipple, professor of Global Development at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Lisa McCabe, research associate at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in the College of Human Ecology.

Their presentation, “Child Care in New York State: Why Community Aware Policies Matter,” explained how community-aware policies consider local conditions to better address needs by implementing more comprehensive policies. In their work, Sipple and McCabe use that lens to specifically look at prekindergarten, which lies at the intersection of the K-12 and early childhood education systems.

“Community aware policies, such as those that account for complexity related to locale and aim to bring oft siloed educational systems together, can better support local community education needs and need to be front and center when tackling a complex issue such as child care,” McCabe said.

The final presentation of the day was led by Mildred Warner, professor of City and Regional Planning in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning and Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Michelle Artibee, director of Workforce Wellbeing at Cornell, Melissa Perry, chief executive officer at the Child Development Council of Central New York, and Ann Marie Stephan, executive director of the Rochester Childfirst Network.

The quartet focused on innovative ways – particularly through provider development grants – to increase the number of child care workers throughout the state. One such grant was announced in October 2023, when Cornell pledged a $372,000 annual contribution for up to five years to fund a new program providing start-up and expansion grants to local child care programs.

“The Community Child Care Growth Initiative, funded by Cornell and managed by the Child Development Council of Tompkins County, addresses a significant gap in existing funding,” says Artibee. “Early childhood professionals with high potential to open small child care businesses are often deterred by the extensive licensing process and associated costs. The funding supports these providers during the pre-licensure phase with business coaching and grants. Established centers can also receive funding to support their expansion projects.”

The innovations segment continued with early education professors from Empire State College and Tompkins Cortland Community College and coordinators from the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, discussing career development funding, career pathways and micro-credentialing for child care professionals.

The program concluded with a keynote address in which Yates voiced her support for advancing universal child care and endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s actions around child care.

The event also featured an interactive session with “table topics,” which included:

  • Equity, access, cost of care, living wages (Cathy Creighton, Russell Weaver)
  • State education policy and local community response and connecting local practices to state and federal incentives (Lisa McCabe, John Sipple)
  • Employer support (Michelle Artibee, Ruth Merle-Doyle)
  • Issues/regulations for care providers (Melissa Perry, Ann Marie Stephan)
  • Career pathways (Lynn Lubecki, Anna Regula)
  • Workforce development (Carrie Whitmore)
  • Streamlining/collaboration (Brigid Daly-Wagner, Christine Duffy-Webb)
  • Gender bias and the need for paradigm change (Mildred Warner)
  • Leveraging partnerships to increase child care (Penny Snell)

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