May 19, 2016St. Albans Messenger
Emerson Lynn
In Franklin County there are an estimated 1,200 children in need of child care and only four percent of them have access to high-quality programs, according to a report released this month by Let’s Grow Kids, which is a project of the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children.
 
Of the 1,200 children, 785 are infants and 425 are toddlers. Of the infants, 65 percent don’t even have access to any regulated programs. Of the toddlers, 26 percent don’t have access to any regulated programs. As a county, we rank highest in the number of infants and toddlers without access to high quality care. We are near the middle when it comes to having access to care that is regulated at some level.
 
The challenge is obvious. Almost three-quarters of these children are in families where both parents work. Finding good places to care for their children, and to have that quality of care be affordable is an exercise in futility for the vast majority of our families.
 
It is a story being played out across Vermont. The problem is two-fold; first is affordability, which drives supply, the second is being able to tell the story in a way that makes us want to come up with answers. The story has to come first. Before a problem can be addressed it has to be understood. People don’t work toward solutions if they don’t know the problem exists. That is the task of the Let’s Grow Kids. And for us.
 
As a state, there are roughly 13,000 children who are in need of quality care programs, which is about two percent of our population. How this two-percent is addressed will have an impact many times that two percent. That is the story’s center.
 
That two percent is what may make the difference between a workforce in Vermont that is prepared for tomorrow’s jobs.
 
How that two percent is treated/educated may be the difference between a health care system that is focused less on sickness, and more on prevention – a vastly cheaper model.
 
That two percent may be the future of the Vermont State College system; for it to prosper it will need to attract a higher percentage of tomorrow’s high school graduates.
 
How that two percent is treated will constitute the difference between almost a billion dollar human services budget that continues to cost us more, and a human services system that costs us less.
 
How we treat that two percent may be the difference between reducing opiate abuse and watching as it continues to ravage families. Early interventions is crucial.
 
How we address this issue may be central to how we address the state’s demographic challenges.
 
A sizable percentage of all the challenges we face as a state can be traced to what happens in the early part of our children’s lives. Vermont is not an outlier in this challenge. All states face the same issue. Vermont’s advantage is our small size and our resource-backed commitment to education and to issues related to public health.
 
We have seen a 25,000-student reduction in the number of school-aged children since 1997. We’re in the process of seeing another 20,000-student loss over the next 15 years.  Yet, what we spend on education has continued to increase and what we spend on children-related programs within the Agency of Human Services continues to soar.
 
Obviously, there is not a dollar-to-dollar correlation between losing a student and funding a child-care operation. Still, the resources are there, what’s involved is the messy job of reallocation. What’s involved is making the story so compellingly obvious that the need to find answers is a no-brainer.
 
In this campaign season, which has just begun, it needs to be front and center as one of the central issues facing Vermont.
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Reprinted with permission from the St. Albans Messenger
 

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