Let’s Grow Kids, with the advisement of 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, developed an analysis of the supply of and demand for regulated (licensed or registered) infant and toddler care in Vermont. (Click here to read the full report.)
According to the US Census Bureau, more than 70% of Vermont children under the age of six live in families where all available parents are in the labor force. For these families, balancing work and life means figuring out how young children will be cared for during work hours. We refer to these children as "likely to need care" (LTNC).
While families rely on all different kinds of arrangements to meet the care and learning needs of their children, for many families, child care providers play a central role in the care and development of young children and allow parents to attend school or retain their jobs.
In our outreach work in communities across the state, we've heard that many parents struggle to find child care that meets their needs. It was clear that Vermont has a shortage of child care (particularly high-quality care), but in order to better understand the problem, we wanted to define it in numbers.
The study found that, statewide, Vermont lacks sufficient regulated child care to meet the needs of infants and toddlers LTNC:
The numbers are even more alarming when you look at access for infants alone. We found that, statewide:
- 85% of infants LTNC don't have access to high-quality programs.
- 61% of infants LTNC don't have access to any regulated programs.
This lack of access to early care and learning programs is a significant challenge not only for Vermont’s families with young children, but also for Vermont’s communities and economy.
Why Quality Matters in Child Care
The early years, when the brain is developing most rapidly, present the greatest opportunity to help young children build a strong foundation for all future learning and skill building. A child's earliest experiences are literally built into the brain, so the quality of care and learning a child receives in the first years is very important, as it will impact future success in relationships, school and life. Read more about what children need for healthy development here.
In Vermont, regulated child care programs can participate in the state’s voluntary quality recognition and improvement system, called STARS (STep Ahead Recognition System). We know that in order to gain the substantial and sustainable public investment necessary to support access to high-quality, affordable early care and learning programs, we need legislative and public support. To gain that support, we need a way to indicate and measure quality. Forty states use quality rating and recognition systems for this purpose. In Vermont, we use STARS, and high-quality is defined as 4 and 5 stars. For example:
- The Legislature decided that state investment in Pre-K will be limited to 4- or 5-star programs or those with 3 stars and a plan to achieve 4 stars.
- The Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) provides higher tuition assistance rates to families enrolled in programs with higher star recognition levels.
High-quality early care and learning programs are staffed by consistent, nurturing caregivers who are educated in early childhood learning and development. In addition to keeping children safe, high-quality programs offer a clean, cheerful environment with outdoor space, and include play-based activities that enrich and promote learning and development, preparing children for success in school, relationships and life.
How are we meeting the need for child care in each county? Looking at access at the county level, in some places up to 98% of infants likely to need care do not have access to high-quality, regulated programs. Take a county-by-county look at the links below:
► May 18 - VTDigger.org: "Child Care Supply is Far Below Demand"
► May 18 - WCAX: "The 30: Report Details VT Child Care Cost, Availability"
► May 18 - WCAX: "Report: Vermont Kids Stalled at Start"
► May 17 - WCAX: "Child Care Checklist, Part 2"
Notes From Our Stalled at the Start Events:
We released our report at two events in South Burlington and Brattleboro in May. Attendees were presented with data from the Stalled at the Start report and then asked to work together with their table to brainstorm with the following prompt: “What can you do to help us improve this situation for VT families and employers?" Click here to see the answers we collected. LGK does not necessarily endorse any of these particular solutions, but we love that Vermonters are thinking so hard about it!