CHANGE launched the Caring Cities program in 2022 to place caregivers at the heart of the network’s mission to transform cities for the benefit of all. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, three CHANGE cities–Bogotá, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles–implemented community-based research efforts that recognize caregivers as experts and partners in shaping city policies.
The culmination of a year-long research process with participating cities, this report features insights from caregivers in their own words as they share experiences, motivations, challenges, and recommendations for what government support would be most impactful in their lives.
CHANGE recognizes care is gendered, with the labor of care disproportionately provided by women – at home, in communities, and in paid professional contexts. Systemic inequalities like sexism, racism, migration status, and poverty impact not only who has access to care for themselves and their loved ones, but also how caregivers are valued, compensated, and empowered in society. The network also believes that care is delivered at a local scale and city governments have a unique role to play in understanding and addressing the challenges facing caregivers.
As part of the Caring Cities program, participating cities led a targeted community-based research effort to explore one aspect of their local care system. The caregivers featured in this report include leaders of community care initiatives in Bogotá, low-income mothers utilizing government-funded child care services in Buenos Aires, and early child care providers running private care centers in Los Angeles.
In this report, each city has a dedicated chapter exploring the findings from their individual research efforts. We have also weaved together themes from across the different cities to highlight key takeaways relevant for anyone working to support a more just and sustainable care system.
Care occurs in a context of love, belonging, and trust.
Participants emphasized the importance of love, belonging, and trust in how they conceptualized their motivations, relationships, identities, and impact as caregivers. While institutions and governments often focus on the economics of caregiving, caregivers who participated in the research emphasized the importance of personal passion, familial devotion, and community solidarity. Our research makes clear that love is central to how caregivers make decisions and make sense of their roles in society.
It is important, however, to acknowledge that passion is not a substitute for fair compensation. Gendered associations between care, love, responsibility, and motherhood have contributed to the undervaluation of caregiving and expectations that care be provided without monetary compensation.
Cities must acknowledge the emotional and spiritual dimensions of caregiving in order to foster just and sustainable care systems. As American theorist and social critic bell hoooks explains, efforts aimed at social transformation – including the work of cities to achieve gender justice in the care system – require understanding the full humanity of communities, including non-material concerns. She writes,
“The absence of a sustained focus on love… arises from a collective failure to acknowledge the needs of the spirit and an overdetermined emphasis on material concerns. Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed.“ – bell hooks
When societies undervalue care, they undervalue women.
From unpaid domestic work in the home to low wages for paid caregiving in the private sector, caregivers highlighted the lack of meaningful recognition and just financial compensation. Our research illuminates the feminist imperative of valuing the work of caregivers. Participants shared numerous and detailed examples of how the economic exploitation of caregivers has serious negative consequences for those receiving and giving care, especially women. Even though caregivers add significant economic and social value to cities.
In the United States, investing in early child care has been linked to poverty reduction and government cost savings, yet child care providers are among the lowest paid professionals in the country.
Unpaid care reinforces gender inequity, leading women caregivers to face both financial poverty and ‘time poverty’ – a term that describes how unpaid caregiving inhibits women’s ability to pursue professional development, education, political participation, and self-care. Economist Dr. Nancy Folbre argues, when our cities fail to recognize that children are a “public good” whose costs should be addressed collectively, we inevitably exploit the time and labor of mothers, which pushes families into poverty and harms children.
For governments investing in care, building local trust and partnerships is crucial.
Caregivers have been long overlooked and undervalued by governments. Many caregivers expressed a lack of trust in the government when it comes to the co-responsibility of care, others said they feel misunderstood or excluded, while others expressed frustration with government processes or identified a misalignment of values. The Caring Cities research underscores the importance of building connections and trust between governments and caregivers. Pursuing a care system based on co-responsibility requires government actors to thoughtfully engage with caregivers across sectors – including those providing care in communities, the private sector, and households.
There is no one-size fits all model for the sharing of care responsibilities, and some caregivers may refuse to engage with the government. Regardless, respecting and learning from caregivers will be critical for cities who want to build thoughtful partnerships, avoid unintended harm to care systems, and support communities and populations with the most acute care needs.
Investments in care have a transformative impact on individuals, families, and communities.
When honored as a shared need and properly resourced, care can be a catalyst for positive change with a transformative impact for individual caregivers – and the families and communities they serve. When caregivers have access to support, resources, and compensation, they can improve their lives and contribute in new ways. Caregivers are also on the frontlines of building resilience in communities. In Buenos Aires, a grandmother shared her experience of waiting decades to realize her dream of owning her own small business because of the “time povety” that came with raising children and gendered societal expectations related to care.
In Los Angeles, early child care providers discussed the impact of their work on children and families, especially those in low-income communities. These caregivers work to foster a love f learning in children, sharing examples of how their care was instrumental in improving educational outcomes. They also recognized their unique role in supporting families – reducing the burden and stress of child care on households, and allowing parents to pursue education and employment.
Caregivers are also on the frontlines of building resilience in communities. For example, the leader of a community care initiative in Bogotá discussed how even though her job is to provide child care, she seeks to support mothers and the larger community. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she went door-to-door to identify those in need and distribute food support.
Our research underscores that caregivers can uplift households, and serve as a “backbone” of communities.
Celebrating Care Solutions from All Our Cities
CHANGE encourages cities around the globe to view caregiving as key to achieving gender equity and supporting a thriving, equitable city. Below are more solutions available today for city governments to begin utilizing their different roles as innovators, employers, providers, and connectors to support the development of more just and sustainable care systems.
Moving forward, CHANGE will grow the Caring Cities program. We believe that investing in care is a feminist action that has innumerable dividends for cities, communities, and societies. Care is a catalyst for the economy, poverty reduction, and increasing women’s participation in the workforce.
You can also jump to city-specific chapters here: