City Council Members Discuss State of Child Care in New York City

By Ford Michael Donovan MIA ’24
Posted Apr 24 2024
The State of Child Care in New York City panel discussion at Columbia IGP
Photo credit: Michael DiVito

In an era defined by escalating living costs and economic uncertainty, child care in New York City is a major challenge for many families. This issue was the focal point of an Institute of Global Politics (IGP) event on April 9, “The State of Child Care in New York City,” held under the auspices of its newly inaugurated Women’s Initiative. The program brought a slate of city council members together with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss the the state of child care in New York City — including both day care and after-school care — with an emphasis on affordability and access for parents, but also job quality and economic security for child care workers.

The event comprised two panels. The first, moderated by Professor Ester Fuchs, centered on day care; participating were Council Members Jennifer GutiérrezRita JosephJulie Menin, and Pierina Ana Sanchez. The second panel, moderated by SIPA Adjunct Associate Professor Jeri Powell, focused on after-school programs, and featured Council Members Shaun AbreuGale BrewerCarmen De La RosaAlthea Stevens, and Julie Won. (Menin and Abreu both graduated from Columbia College, in 1989 and 2014, respectively.)

New York City Council member, Rita Joseph
Photo credit: Michael DiVito


“Early childhood is the foundation for everything else.”

-Rita Joseph, New York City Council Member (District 40); Chair of the Committee on Education

In New York City, families up and down the income spectrum find themselves grappling with the prohibitive costs of full-time child care. This challenge acutely affects women who are often forced to choose between their careers and raising children. Many of the panelists expressed how this particular issue was personal for them. 

“I had my baby two weeks after I got elected,” said Gutiérrez. “People who supported me in my campaign were daycare providers, with two or three jobs. We [wanted to] put together a bill that [was] about creating opportunity for all New Yorkers, regardless of socioeconomic or immigration status.”

“Early childhood is the foundation for everything else,” said Joseph. “We know when women don’t work, we [can’t] contribute to the economy.” 

The discussion touched on the landmark 2022 legislative package that paved the way for universal child care in New York City. While a step forward, both New York and the rest of the country lag behind globally when it comes to the provision of affordable, quality childcare. 

For Sanchez, Scandinavian policies are the international gold standard: In Denmark, she observed, “if your child is two years old, you have options for child care…and the country will subsidize whatever choice you make.” For Joseph, Japan is the framework for success, where “every new [housing] development has an early child care center.” 

The State of Child Care in New York City
Photo credit: Michael DiVito

The first panel discussed how access to quality, affordable child care and after-school programs varies widely across boroughs, neighborhoods, and communities. In the fall of 2023, Columbia SIPA’s Communities Speak project — for which Professor Fuchs is the principal investigator — found that the issue of affordability is especially acute for Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, with 26 percent of Black families and 30 percent of Hispanic families reporting difficulty affording childcare. Across communities in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, 27 to 31 percent of families faced difficulty affording childcare. And, in Brooklyn, 34 percent of families struggled with accessing childcare when they needed it. These issues impacted families at and above the median income level and below the poverty line signifying a widespread issue in the city today.

As part of the second panel, Abreu discussed his personal journey through New York City after-school programs. Today, he is advocating for a bill that would establish universal after-school education in the city. For Won, after-school settings provided a critical source of stability: “For me, [they] were not just a safe place to be, but also a place where I knew I was going to get dinner.”

Stevens, who worked as an after-school provider for over two decades before joining the City Council, wants to change the framework for after-school programs. 

An after-school program is “not just a place to be,” she said, “it serves as educational enrichment. It increases grades. It’s child care, but it’s also an educational supplement." 

"We need to ask ourselves: how are we supporting our providers to build capacity? And how are we building capacity around young people to help them see certain after-school experiences as potential careers?” 
- Althea Stevens, New York City Council member (District 16)

Watch the full program: