Nov 23, 2015VTDigger.org
Let's Grow Kids Press Release

BURLINGTON—A website launched today features Vermonters telling their stories of the struggle to provide children with high-quality, affordable child care. The videos come at a time when there aren’t enough slots open for Vermont’s children who need them, and when the cost is unsustainable for both parents and child care providers.

A project of Let’s Grow Kids, “Small Talk” has since July been on the road around Vermont in a specially outfitted van. Let’s Grow Kids staff have interviewed parents, child care providers, administrators and others concerned about giving Vermont’s children the best start in life during the crucial first five years. So far, Small Talk has interviewed 88 Vermonters, and today the website is launching with 21 of those interviews. See the videos at: letsgrowkids.org/small-talk/videos.

Among the things participants say in their interviews:

“It is absolutely insane what you pay for child care, and it is absolutely worth it,” says Ellen Baier, a mother in Burlington who says that she pays half of her monthly salary to keep her child in a center.

“We would be blowing our tuition out of the water if we were charging what it costs to educate and care for young children,” says Cristina Maddocks, a child care center director from Manchester. “Even middle class families in our area are coming in to tell me that they struggle to pay for child care when we’re doing the best we can to hold down costs for them.”

“Our middle income families get really strapped,” says Heather Friedrichsen, a home-based child care provider from Shelburne. “They’re not eligible for any supports. It’s really hard for them—it’s really hard. And they’re having to make some really difficult choices.”

“It costs $80,000 to earn a degree in education and you make between $20,000 and $25,000 per year,” says Renee Dayle, co-director a child care center from St. Albans. “I make less than what it costs to send [my kids] to child care, and I hold a bachelor’s degree in education.”

In addition to the 21 interviews debuting on the website today, Let’s Grow Kids has 67 more interviews in production to be loaded onto the website in the coming months. Behind these individual stories are facts that illustrate how widespread the challenge is to find and provide high-quality, affordable child care in Vermont:

More than 70 percent of Vermont’s children under age six are expected to need some form of child care because all available parents in their household are in the labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (This means that, whether there’s one parent at home or two, they’re all working.)

While finding care is a challenge for parents of children of all ages, it is especially difficult for families with infants and toddlers (ages birth to three). Less than half of Vermont’s infants and toddlers likely to need care have access to high-quality, affordable care, according to a Let’s Grow Kids analysis of data from the State of Vermont and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearly 170 Vermonters also shared their stories about these challenges, and ideas for potential solutions, in a series of seven forums that Let’s Grow Kids held around the state in October and early November.

“The stories shared by Vermonters in the videos and the stories we heard among our forum participants all bring different perspectives to the same theme: It’s a struggle for both parents and child care providers to afford to give Vermont’s children the kind of early care and learning opportunities that offer the best start in life,” said Let’s Grow Kids Campaign Director Robyn Freedner-Maguire. “It’s pretty amazing the lengths that families and child care providers will go to, and the sacrifices they’ll make, to keep children safe and provide them with these experiences. But it’s also just not a sustainable plan to keep asking for more sacrifice, more tough choices.”

The forums and website come as other efforts begin to shine a light on challenges around early childhood in Vermont. Earlier this year, Vermont’s Legislature and Governor Shumlin began addressing barriers to availability and affordability of high-quality child care by creating the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care. The commission began meeting in September and will issue a report on challenges and potential solutions in November, 2016.

“We understand that the Blue Ribbon Commission wants public input on their work,” said Freedner-Maguire. “Through this website and through our forums and other outreach, we want to be sure that Vermonters are ready to engage in that conversation about the needs in their community and with thoughts about how to meet the needs of Vermont’s families.”

Small Talk is a partnership with Building Bright Futures, Vermont Community Access Media and the Vermont Folklife Center. To learn more and see upcoming Small Talk events, visit the Small Talk page on the Let’s Grow Kids website: letsgrowkids.org/small-talk.

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