For more than a decade, Detroiters have said they need affordable, quality child-care centers.
Finally, one such center exists, and two more are on the way.
- Cradle-to-career program at Marygrove serves Detroit’s littlest people
- As women leave pandemic economy, returning to work, higher wages will be a struggle
The former Marygrove College campus is now home to the Marygrove Early Education Center (MEEC) — a state-of-the-art child-care center serving the Fitzgerald/Marygrove neighborhoods in Live6. The MEEC was created through a $50 million investment from the Kresge Foundation and can serve up to 140 Detroit children from infants to age 5 through a cradle-to-career model that offers behavioral and developmental support services for the entire family.
Detroiters have not had adequate access to affordable early-education centers. A report funded by Kresge found a citywide service gap and that thousands of Detroit kids ages 5 and younger did not have access to a licensed care facility.
At Marygrove, even parents of enrolled children will have access to the campus for leadership programs, parental support and prenatal care.
“It’s for all Detroiters,” said Celina Byrd, principal of the MEEC. “I’m a product of Detroit. I grew up hanging around here. I’d like to think that I’m still welcome here, whether I was principal or not.”
Byrd is a former child-care provider who says it can be difficult to maintain high-quality facilities and retain skilled staff while working with children. Smaller providers, who typically operate child-care centers out of their homes, face expensive costs to meet requirements, while larger facilities struggle to retain teachers and staff due to burnout and a lack of salary options.
She traveled to other cities with Starfish, which was chosen by Kresge to establish and operate the MEEC, to see other top-notch early-education centers to help determine what the Detroit campus should look like. The educational model serves the whole child and the whole family through a social justice model that is culturally responsive and focused on equitable practices. The center also accepts varying levels of payment — which should help Detroiters overcome socioeconomic thresholds.
The EEC on Marygrove’s campus has a modern design with lots of glass windows for an indoor-outdoor feel. There are multiple courtyards for children and private spaces for staff and parents. Byrd said the center sparks creativity.
There’s also a parent room at Marygrove, and space for staff to take breaks when needed.
Kresge promised to invest in at least three centers through President Barack Obama’s Invest In Us initiative. Details of the other locations have not yet been released, but Kresge representatives say the new centers will be in different neighborhoods across Detroit. The same Kresge report listed several areas in northeast and southeast Detroit as the neighborhoods with the highest needs for early-childhood centers.
“It’s more of a demonstration of what’s possible and taking the lessons from the development of that building, and the curriculum and the partnerships and seeing how they can be expanded and explored in other parts of the city,” said Wendy Lewis-Jackson, managing director of the Detroit Program at Kresge.
The MEEC was constructed to be a welcoming place for the neighborhood. The City of Detroit, local nonprofits and community advocates involved parents and the community in the multi-year project. The partners met with neighbors to understand the needs and desires of nearby families. Essentially, if you live in the neighborhood you should have access to the educational services offered. Additionally, the MEEC accepts families from all socioeconomic backgrounds, creating access for families across the city.
“It was extremely important to be able to demonstrate in Detroit that you can have children with different socioeconomic backgrounds be able to access high quality, early-childhood development and education services,” Lewis-Jackson said.
Kresge began working with community partners and other philanthropic entities, like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Skillman Foundation, eight years ago to build the Hope Starts Here partnership and model that prioritizes access, affordability and quality.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expanded free and low-cost child care for 105,000 Michigan children in November. Many who lost their jobs or struggled to maintain work while children were at home during the pandemic have been slow to return to the workforce — mostly due to the high costs of child care. Under Whitmer’s provision, families of four earning $49,000 or less are eligible for free or low-cost child care, and family contributions have been waived through Sept. 30, 2022.
The state’s temporary pause on payments is sure to help Detroit families for the short term. In the long term, education advocates and Detroit partners like Ashanti Bryant from IFF Learning Services, say the effort in Detroit is on “everybody’s radar screen.”
Bryant said much of the work to create the MEEC prioritized community voices, and he acknowledged that Detroiters have been advocating for access to affordable child care in the past. He said that lifting up their needs within the model at the MEEC can help expand equitable access to early childhood services into other parts of the city.
“We’re developing, but the fact that we now have a framework via Hope Starts Here, we can begin to address this,” Bryant said. “Other cities actually have a coordinated system, but they don’t have a true north star about addressing every kid’s needs with equity.”