Oct 30, 2016VT Digger
Editor’s note: This commentary is by John Wilking, president and founder of Neville Companies. He sits on the board of Vermont Business Roundtable and chairs its Education Workgroup, sits on the board of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, is a member of the board and past chair of the South Burlington Business Association, and sits on the South Burlington Development Review Board.
As president and founder of the largest property management company in Vermont, I am acutely aware of the rate at which Vermont businesses expand and contract. In order for businesses to grow, they must not only be able to rely on current employees but also must be able to attract new skilled workers as they expand. Too often, I hear the stories from clients, colleagues and co-workers about employees who can’t find child care and have to leave their jobs or are unable to accept employment. We are facing this issue with one prospect today. Finding good employees is tough enough without this additional child care hurdle.
In Chittenden County the number of young parents who are simply unable to find child care is staggering. A recent report by Let’s Grow Kids showed that 79 percent of infants likely to need care in Chittenden County do not have access to high-quality child care programs and 55 percent don’t have access to any regulated program at all. Where do those 55 percent of kids go when their parents are at work? Parents are forced to make tough choices — leave a promising career or piece together child care with friends, family and neighbors. If the latter is the case, they are often absent. When they are present, they have difficulty focusing on their job as they worry about who will be taking care of their baby the next day. Often, it can take months until they get the call from a child care program saying they won the lottery and made it off the waiting list.
Having an adequate supply of quality child care is an economic imperative that we cannot ignore any longer.
When families are among the lucky 45 percent to find care, it often becomes their most expensive monthly bill, outpacing their mortgage and student loan payments. If only 45 percent of kids had access to K-12 education, there would be protests in the streets. If parents were told they had to spend 28-40 percent of their income on that education, there would likely be riots. And if K-12 teachers made an average of less than $25,000 a year with no benefits, they would surely go on strike. Yet, that is the reality for parents of children under 5 and for the early childhood professionals who care for children at a time when their brains are developing most rapidly, laying the foundation for all future learning.
If you are one of those parents or if you are an early care and learning provider, I call on you now to speak up. Talk to your neighbors, your friends and candidates running for office in your community. If as a state we want to encourage businesses to thrive, and we want a workforce who is ready to answer the growing economy’s call, we need to shore up this broken system of cobbled-together care. Having an adequate supply of quality child care is an economic imperative that we cannot ignore any longer.
This isn’t just for the current economy but our future as well. Studies show that children who have trusted relationships with caring adults do better in school, work and life. At a very young age, they learn executive functioning, behavioral, and social-emotional skills that allow them to be strong members of our community and workforce.
In November the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care will issue their report which will include recommendations about how we can solve the child care crunch in Vermont. As I step into the voting booth in a few weeks, I want to know that the people I am voting for are going to arrive in office ready to take action to implement the Blue Ribbon Commission’s work and solve this critical problem for our economy. As a candidate running for office, how will you solve Vermont’s child care challenge?