Nov 23, 2015Rutland Herald
Patrick McArdle

A statewide organization hoping to bring attention to the need for more affordable, high-quality child care in Vermont made a presentation Tuesday in Rutland .

Forums are planned in Vergennes, Bennington, Brattleboro and Essex by next week.

Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director for Let’s Grow Kids, which she said was a privately-funded, public education campaign, said the goal of the most recent series of public forums, which began Monday in St. Albans, was to build public support.

“We’re here tonight because we want to engage with community members on the important need for high-quality affordable childcare to support young children’s healthy development, and also to support our local economy as well,” she said.

On Tuesday, representatives of Let’s Grow Kids made their presentation at the Franklin Conference Center at the Howe Center in Rutland. It included videotaped testimonials made by Vermonters, including one from Rutland, who spoke as parents or child care providers about their experiences in the state.

Through a combination of state and U.S. Census data, Let’s Grow Kids estimated that almost 2,000 children will need child care in Rutland County because they live in homes where all parents — whether it’s one parent or two — are working. Less than half are expected to have access to affordable childcare that has been rated four or five stars in Vermont’s STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) program.

The presentation also looked at the issues facing childcare providers who make on average a little more than $11.50 an hour, according to the Vermont Department of Labor. Because of the low pay and high demands of providing childcare, the field sees a lot of turnover.

Rick Blount, communications director for the campaign, said parents and child care providers are starting to see that the problem affects them equally: Parents are unable to afford the child care they want and providers are not able to continually provide the quality they would like and make a living wage.

About 20 people attended the meeting Tuesday, aside from the representatives of Let’s Grow Kids, and many said they were parents, child care providers or former teachers.

Those people were asked to split into small groups to identify some of the problems they see affecting the issue of childcare in Vermont, and some of the suggestions they would have for improvements.

Members of the audience were also asked to fill out cards pledging support of the issue and were asked to consider being trained to speak on the issue at local events such as at their annual town meetings.

Freedner-Maguire said everyone is touched by the issue, whether it’s because they were parents of children, or lived in an economy that was affected because businesses need childcare available for their employees.

“Our goal is to get Vermonters to join the conversation and help us identify solutions and work toward those solutions,” she said.

One positive sign discussed during the presentation was a Blue Ribbon Commission on financing child care that began meeting last month. The commission is expected to release a report about one year from now.

The Let’s Grow Kids organization has been active for about a year and a half. The information provided Tuesday came from interviews with about 90 people across the state in places like state fairs, according to their members.

The campaign is online at letsgrowkids.org.

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