Child Care at Government Meetings Proposed by Council Member Kallos
Parents Could Request Child Care, Reducing Barriers to Participation in Government Meetings;
Child Care Aims to Increase Women’s Participation in Government and Running for Office
New York, NY – Parents interested in having a say in local government could have free childcare provided by the city under proposed legislation by Council Member Ben Kallos. The legislation is being announced ahead of Mother's Day and will be introduced within a few days. The bill was inspired by a move to provide childcare at conferences in academia, civic technology, and by NYC Community Education Council 2. Countless parents have found childcare to be a challenge to their professional careers, not to mention civic engagement.
“It actually costs parents money to be civically engaged,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who grew up with a single mother and now offers free childcare at his annual events. “How can democracy work when we exclude parents from representing the interests of themselves and their children because they may not have access to childcare? If we want to build an inclusive democracy here in New York City it means offering free childcare when we want to hear from any New Yorker who has children.”
Nearly one-third of family households in New York City are led by single mothers. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, in New York City in 2015 there were 6.7 million people living in family households of which 4.1 million were married-couples (61%) and 2.6 million were single parents, 2 million of whom were single mothers (30%).
Child care is one of the top three factors women consider in running for office, more so than men, according to research by Rutgers University.[i] In academia, the lack of childcare at conferences was identified more than a decade ago as “a barrier to entry,” according to Science Magazine. Since then childcare is now beginning to be provided on-site at conferences or funded through grants to individual scientists through universities and foundations, according to Science Magazine. Still, childcare at conferences is not universal with funding often insufficient leaving women to continue to advocate in Slate and Forbes.
“If we want to create a future where women are fully represented, then it's imperative that we remove the barriers that prevent active participation in civic life,” said Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization for Women - New York. “We commend Councilmember Ben Kallos for making the connection that child care is one of those key barriers that disproportionately impact women. With women being less than 25% of the New York City Council, this measure has the potential to increase the pipeline of women leaders and sends a clear signal from city government that child care remains a core issue for families.”
Under the legislation, local government agency hearings open to public comment would include a notice offering free childcare. Upon request at least five days prior to the event, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) would provide child care in compliance with standards set forth by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Non-Mayoral parts of city government including other elected officials such as the City Council and Community Boards would also be able to use the same process to request free child care for their events where the public is invited to comment and has requested child care.
Mayoral agency events include City Planning Commission hearings on rezoning neighborhoods, Board of Standards and Appeals hearings on whether to relieve buildings of zoning requirements, Department of Consumer Affairs’ sidewalk cafes, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) on spending and repairs, among many others. City Council and Community Board hearings would also provide child care upon request of a resident which would be fulfilled by ACS at no cost to the Council or the city’s 59 Community Boards.
“As the number of women in the NYC Council has taken a trend downward over the past eight years, from 18 to just 12 out of 51 come January, we must do everything we can to encourage more women to run for office. Child care is a necessary step. Although our public campaign finance system helps level the playing field for fundraising, household finances are still a barrier,” said Moira McDermott, Executive Director of the 21 in ’21Initiative to elect more women to the City Council in 2021. “This legislation would enable more women to become civically engaged, and have a voice in their community. Local participation is the initial step, and I commend Council Member Kallos for introducing this crucial legislation.”
“Our future is dependent on an inclusive society. Since providing free on-site childcare, we've seen our community's diversity grow. We are honored to be this bill's inspiration and we look forward to the day that all parents have an opportunity for full municipal participation,” said Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC whose conference offering childcare inspired the legislation.
“Civic participation is the foundation of democracy. However, some segments of our population face barriers that rob them of their voices in the decision-making process. This bill will remove one of those barriers and give parents of young children the opportunity to participate. It is an important step toward stronger democracy in our city,” said Shino Tanikawa, a parent leader on a Community Education Council in Manhattan that already offers free childcare at their public meetings.
“Now more than ever it is crucial for the public to engage with its civic leaders. Parents want to be involved, but too often childcare is an obstacle to in-person engagement. Not only would providing this assistance allow parents to attend meetings with their representatives, but it would serve as a wonderful model for the children themselves, growing the next generation of citizens participating in their own governance. This meaningful legislation signals that our elected officials are committed to hearing from and engaging with their constituents,” said Deborah Alexander, Co-President of Community Education Council 30 for Long Island City.
“Before I became a parent, as a member of Community Board 8's Education Committee I often wondered why more parents didn't attend our meetings. Parents have a clear and present interest in the democratic process on behalf of their children,” said Sarah Chu, Community Board 8 Member who advocated for this legislation with Council Member Kallos to increase public participation in Community Boards. “Yet, there is a huge drop off in parent participation, not because people stop caring once they become parents, but because paying for childcare to attend meetings is tremendously burdensome for a young family. The reasons to become involved increase once we become parents as we try to support and improve our schools and make sure streets are safe for our children. Adopting this is legislation is important because it tells parents that their engagement in civic life is necessary and valued. This legislation makes it possible for more parents to be involved and paves the way for families to increase their impact.”