Aug 28, 2016Times Argus | Rutland Herald
Emily Cutts
For Rutland resident and mom Shannon Poole, paying for child care for her two sons is only half of the struggle. When Poole and her husband were expecting their first child, they started searching for a certified home day-care provider.
 
Using the state’s database, Poole said she literally emailed and called every single person on the list until she finally found someone.
 
“I honestly thought we’d find our first day care and it would be our one-and-only day care. I didn’t think we’d be finding another,” she said.
 
But the first day care they chose closed and then a family friend who agreed to watch Poole’s sons moved to New York. The third day care they found in Rutland Town just received its community preschool certification, which means if the Pooles were to have another child, there wouldn’t be a place for an infant and the search would begin again. The couples’ eldest, Finnegan, is now 3 and his younger brother, Declan, is 1.
 
Across the state, many families with infants and toddlers are dealing with the same issues, according to a study published this spring by Let’s Grow Kids.
 
The study, “Stalled at the Start,” found that Vermont lacks sufficient regulated child care to meet the needs of infants and toddlers likely to need care.
 
“Our hope is that the report inspires conversation on a local level — how we are doing by our children, what we need to do to better-support our children and families, as well as our local businesses,” said Robyn Freedner-Maguire, Let’s Grow Kids’ campaign director. “The ‘Stalled at the Start’ data really validates the anecdotal things we’ve heard from parents.”
 
The study did an analysis of the supply of and demand for state regulated child-care providers and also looked at the availability of high-quality programs they defined as “regulated programs with 4- or 5-star recognition levels under Vermont’s voluntary quality recognition and improvement system.”
 
In Vermont, more than 70 percent of children live in families where “all available parents are in the labor force,” according to the study. That means out of an estimated 18,247 infants and toddlers in the state, 12,846 are likely to need care. More than two-thirds of the nearly 13,000 are infants.
 
But the study found that providers across the state have only 6,764 slots available for infants and toddlers — 3,274 for infants.
 
Statewide, 47 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to regulated care, and when the rating system is taken into account that number climbs to 79 percent.
 
“There are other regions that have a little bit better showing in terms of regulated care. Comparing county-to-county is probably not the best approach because statewide we know the need is very critical. In every county, is it very critical,” Freedner-Maguire said. “It’s basically a race to the bottom.”
 
In Rutland County, where Poole lives, 87 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality programs, according to the study.
 
Poole said the day-care search process has been a “huge frustration,” and Poole said her family has contemplated having her stay home from work or even relocating to upstate New York where the couple have family.
 
“My husband and I joke, we have three mortgages — actual mortgage, day care and student loans — our mortgage is the lowest out of all of those,” Poole.
 
While Poole continues to work, Jackie Kempton said she decided she needed to quit her job and stay home and raise her child because there was no point in her working.
 
Jackie Kempton with her husband and two children. “It was going to cost us what my paycheck was at my current job,” she said. “I never regretted making that decision but I was so unaware of the struggles and how challenging it would be to find affordable and dependable child care.”
 
In 2012, Kempton was pregnant with her first daughter, Chloe. As a first-time mom, Kempton said she didn’t think finding child care would be an issue and began the search in her third trimester.
 
Living in Peacham, Kempton didn’t find any child-care providers in her town and instead found two in Danville. One of the two had an opening so Kempton and her husband toured it and liked it.
 
“Then we found out how much it cost. I have a degree, I was making great money. All of my paycheck would be going to this person,” she said. 
 
“If I had more options, if I had more availability, I definitely would have returned to work,” Kempton said.
 
According to a 2014 study from Building Bright Futures, the average weekly childcare cost for an infant in Vermont is $217, and for a toddler $210. That adds up to more than $10,000 a year, meaning that middle-income families with two children spend 28–40 percent of their annual income on child care, according to the same study.
 
In Caledonia county, 78 percent of infants and toddlers likely to need care do not have access to high-quality programs, according to the study.
 
Let’s Grow Kids isn’t the only organization looking into the issue. The organization worked with the help of numerous organizations — Vermont Birth to Five, the Vermont Department of Health Child Development Division, the Vermont Department of Health Maternal and Child Health Division and Building Bright Futures — to compile the report.
 
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care is also looking at Vermont’s child-care programs as a whole.
 
The 16-member commission, comprised of both gubernatorial appointed individuals as well as those required by statute, is working to make recommendations to the state government on the most effective use of existing public funding and additional opportunities on child-care affordability.
 
As part of the process, the commission has done outreach and hosted a two-day, five-stop listening tour that stopped in St. Johnsbury, Burlington, Barre, Rutland and Brattleboro at the end of July. Using testimony gathered from the forums as well as those submitted in writing, the commission will draft a report recommending strategies to support affordable, quality child care in Vermont later this year.
 
The commission is also collecting public input through a online survey that can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/FZL8PTG. The survey is available until Sept. 15.
 
The complete “Stalled at the Start” study can be found at www.letsgrowkids.org/stalled-start.
 
This story was published by and is available online on the Times Argus and Rutland Herald websites. 

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