New Survey Shows New York City Parents Face Multiple Barriers Accessing Publicly Funded Child Care, 3-K and Pre-K

Press Releases

March 23, 2023

Advocates and City Council Members Call on Mayor Adams to Meet the Needs of Working Parents


Study Underscores Urgent Need to Protect Investments; Prioritize Full-Day, Year-Round Care; Expedite Enrollment; and Advance Salary Parity


New York – Today, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) released findings from a new citywide survey that illustrate the challenges New York City parents face accessing publicly funded early care and education services. The research identified barriers including a lack of clear public information; difficult and time-consuming application processes; and limited access to full-day, year-round care among primary concerns raised by New York City parents.

“New York City’s Early Care and Education system functions as a vital resource for children and families, promoting not only young child development and school readiness, but offering critical support to working parents,” said Jennifer March, executive director at CCC. “Sadly, despite great unmet need,  thousands of publicly funded child care, 3-K and UPK seats remain open and unfilled as barriers to access are daunting. Our research offers a clear roadmap to ensure that we meet child and family needs in ways essential to system success and stability, promoting child and family well-being and in turn our city’s economic recovery.” 

The survey was part of a year-long research project undertaken by CCC to elevate the voices of parents and providers and inform government decision-making on how to address under-enrollment across the city’s Early Care and Education (ECE) system. The project also examined administrative data on enrollment and capacity and garnered feedback from listening sessions with parents and ECE providers to call attention to the ways in which the city must act to reduce barriers experienced by families in accessing 3-K, Pre-K and child care programs, and identified recommendations to build a more sustainable path to a universal system. 

Following a pandemic that has put a financial strain on many families, and where women have reported being pushed out of the workforce due to child care needs at higher rates than men, parents expressed concern over the high cost of care along with other basic household expenses. The survey also elevates the extent to which parents’ concerns for the health and safety of their children and uncertainty about the spread of COVID-19 remain central to their decisions on their child care arrangements.

Among the key findings, CCC’s citywide survey of parents found that: 

  • 1 in 3 parents with children between the ages of 1 and 5 reported a need for regular care during the week for most of the day, suggesting a greater need for seats in extended day programs (8 to 10 hours per day). Only a quarter of contracted seats currently provide full-day options.
  • 70% of survey parents employed full time and 57% of those employed part time want services close to home; however, 29% and 42%, respectively, preferred options close to work, suggesting the importance of ensuring greater contract flexibility and added capacity meets families’ needs across the city.
  • The vast majority of respondents (80%) trust non-relatives and child care providers to care for their children as early as one or two years of age, yet only 17% of the public system addresses this age cohort, suggesting a need for more seats serving children younger than three years of age. 
  • More than a third of all respondents did not know about subsidized child care programs, and most parents indicated that they rely on family or friends to learn about options, indicating a need for community rooted outreach efforts through credible messengers to ensure New Yorkers know about and can access public programs. 

Parents’ concerns were echoed by providers, who also highlighted that the DOE’s system for determining where seats are needed may not take enough consideration of key factors for working families, such as transportation, location of programs, and whether a family might prefer access to child care close to work or another location. In addition, providers reported that while they are seeing an underutilization of school-day, school-year seats, they also have wait lists for full-day, year-round programs.

“From our discussions with providers, we know that several systemic challenges exist that make it difficult to offer families programs that fit their needs, such as the system’s reliance on school-day seats rather than full-day seats needed to support working families year round, and the fiscal challenges providers face when city contract payments are delayed” said Bijan Kimiagar, CCC’s associate executive director of research.

“Providers are the face of the ECE system. They support children and families day-to-day, so they are trusted and know the solutions that would support families applying for care, such as a decentralized enrollment system where community-based organizations can directly enroll children,” said Cristina Onea, research associate at CCC who coordinated the multipronged community engagement that supported this research.

CCC’s analysis of the city’s Department of Education (DOE) data on capacity and enrollment shows that the public contracted system has grown significantly over the last decade; primarily enrolls 3-and 4-year-olds; and prioritizes school-day, school-year services. Pre-pandemic, in the 2019-20 school year, the contracted system reached around 92,000 children under five years of age – with Pre-K enrollment reaching 68,000 children, 3-K reaching 17,500 children, and with minimal capacity to serve infants and toddlers. In the 2019-2020 school year, 75% of the children enrolled in the city’s contracted ECE system were in school-day and school-year seats.

As system capacity has increased – with new contracts for family child care and center-based providers coming online during summer 2020 and 2021, respectively – more school-day, school-year seats have been added. At the same time, our analysis of DOE data shows that the number of open seats has been increasing across all settings and age groups, reflecting  troubling barriers to access across the entire system. The number of open seats increased between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years and across all age groups, with the largest number of open seats in Pre-K.

“NYC has made historic investments in public ECE programs, and yet our analysis illustrates that the system must do more to meet the needs of families,” said Marija Drobnjak, senior research associate at CCC. “While the growth in 3-K and UPK programming should be applauded and maintained, the system lacks capacity to serve infants and toddlers, and program options prioritize school-day and school-year services over extended-day, year-round options. Before the city looks to reduce system capacity, we urge the DOE to advance solutions that improve access to the supports that working parents desperately need.”

CCC is advocating for the following actions to be taken by city leaders: 

  • Protect investments in 3-K for All and leverage open seats to meet needs across age ranges;
  • Build a robust, culturally and linguistically appropriate education and engagement campaign at the community level via trusted messengers and in partnership with providers;
  • Create and support decentralized enrollment options so that community-based organizations can directly enroll children whose families apply for care; 
  • Offer greater contract flexibility for programs to respond to emerging community needs in ways that increase access to full-day, year-round care; address the needs of particular age cohorts; and children with special needs; 
  • Advance the next stage of salary parity for center-based workers that includes those left out of the original 2019 agreement and ensure home-based family child care providers benefit from the increased state market rate;   
  • Embed and improve connections to Early Intervention and Behavioral Health services to address children’s developmental and social emotional needs

Click on the button below to read quotes from Council Members and advocacy partners in the full press release. 


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