Cuyahoga Falls plans to offer an unusual perk for parents who want to attend city council meetings — free child care.
Mayor Don Walters and Councilman Drew Reilly announced the plan this week, saying they wanted to remove a potential barrier for people to "engage in the civic process."
"By offering this new service, we are able to increase accessibility to our public meetings for anyone who wishes to attend and participate in the process but may otherwise be unable due to lack of childcare," Walters said in a prepared statement.
The child care will be available beginning in September. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at the city-run Natatorium, 2345 Fourth St. The sports and community complex already offers child care for members through the Kids' Castle Babysitting program, so the city doesn't have to hire additional staff or spend any money on the initiative, city spokeswoman Kelli Crawford-Smith said Tuesday.
She said city leaders have heard some parents say they wished they could have attended a meeting, but couldn't because of their children.
It's unclear how many people will take advantage of the offer.
Cuyahoga Falls officials believe they are the only city in Ohio that will offer such a program.
The National League of Cities, based in Washington, D.C., applauded the move.
“Throughout 2019, the National League of Cities is encouraging cities across the country to find new ways to increase civic engagement," said Kathryn Shibuya, senior associate for early childhood in the group's Institute for Youth, Education and Families. "Like Cuyahoga Falls, some cities, including Ithaca, New York, and Bloomington, Indiana, are beginning to offer child care during city council meetings to make it easier for families with children to participate. These child care options usually rely upon existing city programs or community partners that operate in accordance with child care licensing guidelines.”
The organization said it plans to monitor the response in Cuyahoga Falls.
Reilly said in a prepared statement that he started researching ways to make council meetings more accessible to younger people and learned that child care can be a roadblock.
“In just a few days, I am going to be a father, and I firmly believe that all parents should have the same access and ability to participate in the civic process that I do without having to worry about who will care for their child," he said.
The child care is available for kids up to age 9. Parents and others who want to use the service will be required to check in with the council clerk to receive a "Council Pass" for the Kids' Castle and complete an emergency medical form.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.