Sandy Socolar, MA, MSW has long been committed to child care excellence for New York City’s working families. After decades employed as a union organizer and then as a social worker, Ms. Socolar has — in her “retirement” — worked for the past 28 years pro bono as a child care policy analyst for District Council 1707, AFSCME. In these later years, she also co-chaired the Child Care Committee of the citywide Welfare Reform Network.
A hundred years ago, on May 31, 1916, Ms. Socolar came into the world as Ethel Bliss Beach. She spent most of her early years in Fuzhou, China, where her parents were Congregational missionaries. They had each received a master’s degree at Teachers College, Columbia, and gone to China in the early 1900s to help set up schools and teach. She was home-schooled until 8th grade, then went to boarding school in Shanghai, and had a year of college at Beijing University before returning to the U.S..
After earning a BA in Psychology at Smith College, Ms. Socolar got a Master’s degree in group work and worker education at Teachers College, Columbia. She then worked for the YWCA and, for a decade, mainly in New York City, as a union organizer for the United Office and Professional Workers of America. Making a big career change, in 1950 she was admitted to the University of Chicago where she earned a MSW in Pediatric Medical Social Work. There she met and married Sidney Socolar, Ph.D., a science professor. They had a daughter and son, and in 1957 moved to the Upper West Side in New York, where he worked at Columbia.
Ms. Socolar was hired as an assistant kindergarten teacher at her children’s school in 1960. That was the start of her 50-plus years of work in early education and child care, most of which focused on helping parents get good child care. In 1964, a small West Side agency, Children’s Health Service, received a grant and hired her to set up the first family day care program in New York City, a service designed for working mothers. For the next decade she worked as a Director in city-funded family child care programs.
In 1976, the Preschool Association of the West Side hired Ms. Socolar to develop a pioneering child care information service that assisted New York City parents in finding quality affordable child care. This was one of the first child care resource and referral services in the country. She learned to use a computer and, with some help from her husband, Sid, she created the first computerized database of New York City child care centers and preschool programs. PAWS’ child care information service led to the founding of Child Care, Inc. in 1982 (now Child Care Initiatives), the largest and best-known of the city’s state-funded child care resource and referral services. She served there as director of the child care information service until her retirement in 1987.
Since then, Ms. Socolar has focused on child care advocacy. Year after year, she testified at city and state public hearings on child care funding and subsidies, quality and regulations. She did detailed analyses of budget appropriations for child care and their impact in each City Council district.
Retiring also enabled Ms. Socolar to return to working with unions— District 65 UAW, TOP Local 2110 UAW, and DC 1707—
this time on their members’ child care needs. Throughout these years, she continued doing research and working with other child care advocates to protect and strengthen New York City’s unique system of quality, public-funded child care.
Portrait by Erica Lansner