Mahisha Rowell, 25, spent two years out of the workforce after the birth of her son, who had urgent medical needs that kept her by his side day and night. When he turned 2, doctors gave him a clean bill of health and Rowell started a job search. But for the single parent with only a high school diploma, living in a shelter at the time, prospects seemed slim.
Then she heard about Generations Advancing Together through Education, a pilot project started by a Boston nonprofit that pairs job training with childcare.
Lack of adequate childcare is one of the top barriers preventing women with children from completing job training programs, a 2016 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found. Added support services such as child care increase the rate of training completion, the IWPR report indicates, but they often are unavailable because of insufficient funding or difficulty coordinating across separate agencies and systems.
GATE, which is led by Action for Boston Community Development and funded by a three-year, $3.5-million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s 2016 Strengthening Working Families Initiative, aims to solve that problem by coordinating childcare with training programs.
It’s been miserable over the years, trying to help folks who want to go to work and can’t because they can’t access childcare,” said Sharon Scott-Chandler, executive vice president and COO of ABCD. “Their training programs and childcare needs never match.”
GATE aims to end that disparity. ABCD lends its expertise in childcare referrals while partnering with three workforce development organizations to provide job training: YMCA Training Inc., the Asian American Civic Association and Jewish Vocational Services. Training options include computerized office skills, banking and finance, and certified nursing assistant and pharmacy technician training. Each of the training programs already has links to employers who can offer hands-on externships and post-training employment.
GATE is managed by a four-person team within ABCD. The team assesses participants’ interests and matches them with both an appropriate training program and childcare arrangements that fit the needs of all children in the family up to age 13.
A number of factors make the childcare piece complex, said GATE Project Manager Tiffany Ramos. The training programs start on different dates and run for different durations. Some of the families GATE serves are living in shelters or other unstable housing situations. A family’s children could range from infants to middle schoolers.
“It gets complicated,” Ramos says. “People are in various stages, and their child care needs change.”
One success factor is that the GATE team contracts directly with providers and pays them at their market rate instead of the state discounted rate, Ramos said, which provides an added incentive for childcare centers to participate in the program.
For parent participants, childcare is free during training and for 90 days afterward. After that, GATE coordinators work to help graduates transition to paid or voucher-supported childcare.
At a recent event celebrating GATE’s first year, parent participants, training program managers and employers talked about the program’s results. So far, 45 parents have completed training through GATE. Of those, 36 of are already employed, and the others are taking steps in that direction.
“The whole thing is just so seamless,” said Hayley Yaffe, director of family support and subsidized services at Greater Boston YMCA, who spoke on behalf of GATE’s multiple childcare providers. “There’s a really quick turnaround to get children into care. If the children aren’t being cared for, the families can’t attend the training they need. So having that intermediary [GATE child care coordinator] has been integral.”
As for Rowell, she entered the pharmacy technician training, and it turned out to be a good fit.
“I liked it,” Rowell said. “It was tough, but I liked that they had hands-on training with the externship at the stores. We started one week, and the next week we were in the stores two days a week.”
Now, she is employed at the CVS pharmacy where she did her hands-on training. She started at $14 per hour, a big step up from the $10.50 wage at her last job at a mall boutique. Her pay will rise when she gains certification, she said.
The childcare GATE provided allowed Rowell to attend classes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In her new job, she works “mother’s hours,” she says, and her son was able to continue in the same daycare center that he had grown to love.
“He’s doing great right now,” she said. “And I feel good, because I can work now.”
GATE may have caught the interest of the city of Boston’s new cross-sector Economic Mobility Lab. The Lab, charged with exploring innovative approaches to improving economic mobility, has reached out recently to Ramos, though they have yet to meet.
Interest and support from the city could potentially help sustain GATE when the federal grant runs out in July 2020.
“We want to keep this conversation going and figure out how we can sustain this,” Ramos said. “We’re seeing a successful program, and would hate to see it just end in 2020.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve corrected the spelling of Mahisha Rowell’s first name.