The children were thrilled to see her every morning, right at 7:30am, calling as they came in: “Hi, Ms. Anne!” They would laugh together, dance and beat drums together, and grow and sample vegetables together in Anne Osula’s Mattapan-based family child care home. On holidays, Osula made jollof, a spicy tomato-based rice dish popular in Nigeria, where she is originally from, to share with parents and children alike gathered in her home.
That was four months ago. Osula has stayed in touch with families through the pandemic, but the connection has been bittersweet at times–some parents have sent videos of the children in the morning, crying to go back to daycare. Still, Osula has tried to keep some of the old rituals alive: after the initial closure, when it was safer to go out, she dropped by some of her local families to bring them her famous jollof.
Today, Osula is preparing to go above and beyond for her neighborhood again. “I’m scared to reopen,” she admits. Even before the pandemic, family child care providers were struggling to stay afloat. The new health and safety requirements, though necessary, are yet another burden on an undercompensated workforce. Osula runs down her reopening list: masks, table dividers, thermometers, and more. “We’re not making enough money and we are spending more,” she concludes. Supervision will be more intensive too: “Keeping the kids away from each other, not in each other’s faces, is going to be extra work.” Osula suggested the state should make outdoor facilities (like the zoo) free for caregivers to keep children occupied outside.
But the full need child care providers are facing is bigger than that. Osula’s business is licensed for ten children, and she has two assistants to accommodate the full group size, but there is no guarantee of enrollment. “We need more help and more grants,” she says. As a leader in SEIU Local 509, the union representing family child care providers that serve subsidized families, Osula also pointed out that family child care providers have long been fighting for more compensation from the state. She noted providers aren’t even earning the equivalent of $16 per hour–above minimum wage, but still far short of what such skilled, dedicated, and essential workers deserve. In the context of the pandemic, she says, “more than anything we need [that income] now.”