hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 18, 2012

Parents, child care groups call for safer transportation

By John Cuneo Community Action

---- — Adult monitors on buses and vans ensure the safety of young children under the age of 5 during transport and minimize the risk of a child being left behind on a vehicle. The cost, $17 million, is not cheap, but parents and providers understand the heartbreaking cost of doing nothing to address this problem.

Early education providers strive each day to meet the educational and developmental needs of over 200,000 of our youngest children in Massachusetts. These child care programs work in partnership with the parents and families of the children they serve. They do so with an essential shared trust that their child’s safety will be prioritized during the child’s time in the program each day.

Prioritization of safety begins each day when thousands of children across Massachusetts, some as young as 6 weeks old, enter vans and buses to access their early education or before/after school program. Community Action, Inc. Family Day Care, Head Start and Early Head Start transport children daily to their chosen child care program. Without transportation services for our families, children could not experience quality programs that support the entire family. Community Action, Inc. provides transportation for about 275 children in the Greater Haverhill area daily.

A child’s death brings the need for change

Prioritization of safety in early education transportation has rightfully come under scrutiny during the past year, since last September’s death of 17-month-old Gabriel Josh-Cazir Pierre, who was killed while being transported to child care in Boston.

Gov. Patrick immediately created an ad-hoc committee to take an in-depth look at the early education transportation system. Their efforts led the State Board of Early Education & Care to pass a series of policy and procedural changes aimed at making the transportation of young children safer. The most significant recommendation was to require an adult monitor on any vehicle carrying children under the age of 5.

Early Education providers and parents of young children support this recommendation. Over 10,000 parents across the state have written the governor, asking him to support these recommendations.

Early education transportation equates access to care

For children of working families, transportation represents the difference between receiving early education services and enhancing their ability to enter school better ready to succeed.

For working parents, the availability of transportation to high quality child care programs is an essential element to be able to work.

For the 5,000 children in the custody of the state Department of Children & Families due to abuse or neglect, transportation represents accessing what may be their most stable aspect of their lives.

For each of these children, the state and providers of care have a responsibility to ensure their safety while they are being transported.

Poorly funded transportation system a concern

The current child care transportation system is poorly-funded, contributing to existing problems.

At a hearing of the governor’s ad-hoc committee, the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services presented testimony that human service transportation rates, unlike early education transportation rates, reflect true cost. For early ntervention, that true cost is an average of $54 per day round trip, six times more than the Department of Early Education & Care rate of $9 per day round trip. Adult day care transportation rates range from $35 to $40 per day round trip (again, true cost based), four times the DEEC rate. This chronic low funding has impacted quality in the early education transportation system.

Need for timely action by governor, legislature

The governor and the Department of Early Education & Care should be applauded for recognizing the need to strengthen early education transportation.

However, all the strengthening of policies and procedures will go for naught if the governor and Legislature do not step in and address safety in the poorly funded child care transportation system. Providers of care and parents across Massachusetts look to the governor and Legislature for leadership and ask them to stand with us in support of child safety by seeking $17 million in supplemental budget funding for enhanced early education transportation.

Community Action, Inc. is an organization in Haverhill that provides services such as Head Start early childhood education to low-income families.