D.C. Child Care Reopening Fund Q&A with Marica Cox Mitchell

Blog Post
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash
Aug. 10, 2020

A funders collaborative in Washington, D.C. came together in response to COVID-19 to create a new $1 million fund to provide four months of sustained support for 115 licensed home-based child care programs and small child care centers. Support will include cash assistance, technical assistance, personal protective equipment (PPE), and health and safety supplies. The funds will be distributed through an intermediary community-based organization with established relationships in the child care community. On July 29, 2020, I interviewed Marica Cox Mitchell who is the Director of Early Learning for the Bainum Family Foundation and was deeply involved in conceiving the reopening fund. I edited the interview for length and clarity.

What is the appropriate role for philanthropy in early learning is during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think philanthropy can play a critical role in supporting child care right now, and it is much needed. Philanthropy can help child care programs innovate and be responsive to families during the pandemic to ensure that children’s growth and developmental needs are met. Philanthropy can amplify the needs of stakeholders, that includes parents, providers, and the community at large, especially as important decisions are being made about funding, reopening, new requirements, and more. Philanthropy can support reopening in a direct way, like the D.C. Child Care Reopening Fund is doing.

Tell me about the origin of the fund. Who is involved? How did it come to be? What are your goals?

We are responsive to the needs of the community. Given feedback from community programs and advocacy organizations we partner with, it is clear that some early learning programs wanted to reopen and some never closed. They are mostly small businesses operating on very thin margins, and they are facing new costs and requirements. Providers are interested in continuing to support families with young children, ensuring their safety. They see themselves as an integral part of their community and want to be responsive in a way that is safe. Philanthropy could respect their choice and professional expertise, and provide support to providers preparing to reopen and meet new safety requirements.

Tell me about the design of the fund. Are the participating philanthropies providing direct assistance or is there an intermediary? How did you come up with the design, and how did you pick the intermediary?

We always ask our grantees to collaborate, and it is important for us to model the type of collaboration we seek. We are a collaborative of five early childhood funders including the Bainum Family Foundation, A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, and the Richard E. & Nancy P. Marriott Foundation. As a collaborative, we’ll be able to maximize the impact of the fund to reach at least 115 child care providers.

We started by learning from others providing resources to support child care. It was important for us to include the voices of providers at the table where the fund was created. We leveraged our partnership with DCAEYC and D.C. Family Child Care Association. So, not only was the funding collaborative, but the design of the program was also done collaboratively ensuring that the voice and expertise of the providers were front and center. And that means they informed funding criteria, scope, and selection priorities. They know the community best, so they also support the marketing. Accessibility and ownership were key. The only way to do that is to partner with providers themselves.

We customized our approach to meet our local context and opted to go through an intermediary organization. It was important for us to find an intermediary who already had relationships in the community. We chose Mary’s Center. They are providing technical assistance to help providers complete the application as well as creating materials and training in English and Spanish.

We didn’t want this to be one-time funding, so we made sure it was sustained funding over a four month period. It is also comprehensive. It includes financial assistance, technical assistance to enable providers to meet new guidelines, and gives access to PPE and other sanitation and safety supplies. Another benefit of going through an intermediary is access to hard-to-find health and safety supplies. In this case, our intermediary, Mary’s Center, has a health center and a charter school, so they already had relationships with vendors they could leverage to access PPE and health and safety supplies.

"While we know providing this supplemental and sustained funding for this subset of providers is important right now, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the child care system as a whole is significantly underfunded, undervalued, and will need to be revamped to better meet the needs of families and young children." - Marica Cox Mitchell

Which child care providers are targeted for assistance? How did you decide?

We focused on where the need is greatest and demand will be the highest—home-based providers and small centers. The demand for those programs is high because of the small group size and non-traditional hours. Some made the choice to stay open and were never closed during the pandemic. Families are looking for safe care and educational environments for their children. As a result of structural and institutional inequities, some families have the resources to create “learning pods,” implement hybrid homeschool, and hire tutors—and others do not. It’s about ensuring that families and child care providers, particularly the ones most marginalized in the current system, have the resources they need to exercise their agency and make informed decisions without causing harm.

How is it going so far?

Funding is available on a rolling basis with a deadline to apply of August 3. In the meantime, we know the intermediary and collaborating organizations have hosted a series of webinars to walk applicants through the process. They are hosting virtual office hours in English and Spanish to help providers apply. They are also continuing to get the word out.

It is important to note that this is an opportunity for us to learn directly from providers. We can get close to the providers to better understand and learn from them what their needs are, how they are innovating, how they are protecting themselves and the children they serve, what challenges they are facing, how they use their specialized knowledge and competencies, and in what ways they are being agile. We intentionally designed the fund to provide autonomy so providers can make decisions about their priorities and needs. We don’t want to make any assumptions.

What are the policy implications you’ve learned from your close collaboration with providers in the creation of this fund?

While we know providing this supplemental and sustained funding for this subset of providers is important right now, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that the child care system as a whole is significantly underfunded, undervalued, and will need to be revamped to better meet the needs of families and young children. And so we are also beginning to have conversations amongst ourselves. How do we tackle the root causes? How do we ensure we are being responsive to issues happening right now as well as continuing to push for a more supportive, equitable, and effective system that is responsive to the needs of the community and families?

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