Radical childcare collectives across the USA

I recently found this awesome article by Heather Bowlan, originally published in make/shift and republished in Utne Reader:

In 1989, China Martens went to an international anarchist gathering in San Francisco with her one-year-old daughter and found, to her surprise, a childcare room. “That there was a safe place for me and my daughter to go, [that] we could talk to others instead of being left out, that they served peanut butter sandwiches and juice, and that they had a flyer saying how childcare is a radical activity everyone should support made a huge impression on me,” she says.

Today, Martens is a cofounder of Kidz City, a new childcare collective in Baltimore. Across the country, from Los Angeles to Austin to D.C., these collectives are emerging. Mainly made up of activists and those with a passion for children, groups have formed to ensure that parents and caregivers have a voice in social justice movements. Many of them incorporate workshops and political education in their work, and many support specific organizations—especially organizations led by women of color.

Read more here. I have a fair amount of experience with housing collectives, and my friends and I have frequently sat around talking about how we might someday go about realizing new, more communal models for child-rearing. But I think we always figured we’d have to design our childcare collectives from the ground up if we wanted to get it done, so I’m really excited to see people already working concretely on these issues.

Also interested to see Simon Strikeback, the trans activist, referenced in the Chicago bit of the article. I’ve encountered Simon around Chicago rarely, but every time I do it seems like something awesome is going on, e.g. lots of different queer organizing, or the zine Bound To Struggle: Where Kink and Radical Politics Meet.

9 comments for “Radical childcare collectives across the USA

  1. Florence
    March 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I get make/shift and heart it muchly. If you have spare bucks to support a grassroots magazine, this is worth your time.

  2. jillian
    March 3, 2011 at 9:01 am

    im coming to this conversation (or maybe im just talking to myself here) a little late, but while i like the idea of childcare collectives im weary of just anybody watching my kids. i went to a feminist conference several years ago and there were flipping latex ballons sitting on the ground – hello. choking hazard! and no one was in it.

    just recently in houston,texas 4 children died at a home day care when the provider left a stove burner on and then left the 7 children (between 18 months and 3y) unsupervised to go to the store. i know there’s a lot of extenuated fuckery going on there, but currently Texas only requires 8 hours of training to become a HCCP. if you wanna cut hair, you need 1500 hours. also, fire codes say there should be one adult for every two non-ambulatory child, but then allows up to 6 preschoolers for every one adult. even if she was home, how the heck was she supposed to safely get all those toddlers out of the house.

    tl;dr – collectives are good, but just cause your radical doesnt mean im going to let you be responsible for my kids.

  3. March 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    That’s a fair point, Jillian, and one that I’ve thought about a lot. I’d be interested to learn more about how these collectives are negotiating that. I don’t think that official training is the only way to go, but if it were my kids, I too would want to feel a little more sure about whoever was watching them. Do you hire babysitters? If so, how do you screen them?

  4. Heather Bowlan
    March 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Jillian. If you’ll notice, the article mentions repeatedly that each collective works closely with the organizations for which they provide childcare. The focus for these groups is forming guidelines for care with parents, rather than in a vacuum assuming temporary caregivers somehow know what’s best for a parent’s child. Parents working within organizations also work with childcare collectives to incorporate political education into the childcare itself, as the article also discusses, to further this holistic process. Of course, this article discusses several childcare collectives and cannot speak to every attempt at caregiving in a radical setting. The examples you provide are dangerous and wrong. However, I’d refer you to the longer article in make/shift, issue 8 (www.makeshiftmag.com) if you’d like to learn more about collectives attempting a more intentional approach.

  5. March 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Heather. Maybe I didn’t read very closely, but it wasn’t obvious to me from the article how those guidelines were formed or what kind of safeguards are in place. I’m glad that this is covered more in the longer article, which I haven’t read, but since I’m guessing the vast majority of Feministe readers won’t get a copy of that make/shift issue, maybe you could offer a few bullet points and/or internet-available resources as points where further thinking could start?

  6. Heather Bowlan
    March 4, 2011 at 1:04 am

    There are, indeed, a variety of Internet-available resources on these collectives. Many of them can be found by Googling the names of the various organizations I cite in my article. I encourage those interested in the motives and security measures of these community-based childcare collectives to take the time to do further research to satisfy their concerns.

  7. sarahbee
    March 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    What an amazing idea. This is something that I could get involved with. Having pre-school-aged children makes work difficult, so I haven’t been active outside the home like I wish I could be. The idea of people getting together and supporting each other to overcome this hurdle in a way that benefits our children is great! That, and it would be nice to escape the social isolation that is life at home all day with a child… ;-)

    So I tried to find a group in Austin, my home city, and came up only with La Semilla, which appears to be inactive. Does anybody know how to find and get involved with a group near me?

  8. simon strikeback
    March 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Hey everyone, this is Simon, one of the people mentioned in the article. First, Clarisse – thanks for the repost, and the mention of Bound to Struggle! But more to the point –

    Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) has a really strict policy about *not* pretending that we are professional childcare givers. Most of our volunteers are part or full-time workers or students – some are public & private school teachers and some work at coffee shops. We are very upfront with orgs who want to work with us. Here’s what we offer to the orgs:

    – Childcare on-site. This means our volunteers travel to the event or meeting space for the org. We play with the kids in a room down the hall that’s child-friendly while the moms/caretakers have their meeting/event. We have a cell number for each parent (or group of parents) so if we need to bring them into the situation for any reason (the kid feels sick, they get hurt, they cry because they miss their parent, they are making the space unsafe for other kids, etc) we simply get the parent and they deal with it.

    We do this because we’re not getting paid and we don’t ask our volunteers to come with any sort of childcare or even first-aid training. This brings the most number of interested volunteers to be available to help support the organizing that the org does.

    – Volunteer training. All our volunteers are trained in very basic childcare skills. Mostly how to do fun crafts and games with kids from different age groups with limited English language skills, who might also all speak different languages. We talk about how to de-escalate tensions between kids and when to know our limits and go get the parent. We talk about consent and physicality and about setting boundaries.

    – Our main goal is to be allies to social justice organizing in the city. By providing childcare like this, moms and other caretakers are able to go to meetings and events, which they normally can’t do b/c they have to take care of their kids. Even if they have to come hang out with their kid for a few minutes while they chill out, the adults really get a chance to participate. This is our main priority – being good allies to POC-led racial & economic groups fighting for their own self-determination and freedom.

    – As you can see, there’s a national movement! One great place to find out more about this will be at the upcoming Allied Media Conference in Detroit this June. If you have chance to get out there, there will be lots of opportunities to participate in these discussions, or volunteer to hang out with kids while their moms/caretakers participate at the conference.

    It’s great to see so many people involved in this discussion. Thanks everyone!
    simon strikeback,

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