Parents interested in participating in local government might soon receive free child care provided by the city under proposed legislation by Council Member Ben Kallos.
Raised by a single mother, Kallos hopes the option of child care will eliminate barriers to participation by parents, and in turn increase women’s involvement in government. Women make up less than 25 percent of the New York City Council.
“I think people feel like democracy is broken,” said Kallos, who offers free child care at his annual events. “If we want to build an inclusive democracy here in New York City, it means offering free child care when we want to hear from any New Yorker who has children.”
The idea was brought to Kallos by several parents in the district, including Community Board 8 member Sarah Chu, a new mother.
“Before I became a parent, I often wondered why more parents didn’t attend our meetings,” said Chu. “Parents have a clear and present interest in the democratic process on behalf of their children. Adopting this legislation is important because it tells parents that their engagement in civic life is necessary and valued.”
According to research by Rutgers University, child care is one of the top three factors women consider in running for office, more so than men. Under the legislation, this common barrier to entry among women will be eliminated.
“If we want to create a future where women are fully represented, then it’s imperative that we remove the barriers that prevent active participation in civic life,” said Sonia Ossorio, President of New York’s National Organization for Women.
By providing assistance to allow parents to engage with their local representatives, the legislation emphasizes the significance of in-person engagement among constituents.
“Now more than ever it is crucial for the public to engage with its civic leaders,” said Deborah Alexander, co-president of Community Education Council 30 for Long Island City. “Not only would providing this assistance allow parents to attend meetings with their representatives, but it would serve as a wonderful model for the children themselves.”
Community Education Council 2 for Manhattan already offers free child care at their public meetings. Shino Tanikawa, parent leader on the council, described the child care addition as “an important step toward democracy.”
Upon request at least five days prior to local government agency hearings, child care would be provided by Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). Non-mayoral parts of city government such as the City Council and community boards would also be able to follow the same process to request child care at all public events.
The legislation would cover parents, grandparents, and legal guardians of children 13 and under. Single mothers lead one-third of family households in New York City, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bill will be introduced on September 27th. With very little time remaining in the current session, Kallos believes the bill will more likely be re-introduced in January, February, or March. With enough support from the community at the hearing, he hopes to see the bill pass into law.