Feb 20, 2017Burlington Free Press
MILTON - Vermont lost home-based child care programs about twice as fast after new regulations were announced, according to preliminary data.
April Christenson's home in Milton still bears the marks of her 11 years in child care — coat hooks near the back door, the remnants of a gate across the stairs, and kids' artwork in the play area. "I will miss you," reads one note.
Christenson closed her doors in April 2016 in anticipation of the state's new regulations, which took effect Sept. 1. She worried that the rules would add burdens to an already long workday, though she said the regulations were not the only factor in her decision.
"Some things seemed very nit picky to me, you know what kind of diaper pail you use… down to that level of detail," Christenson said.
A typical day would end with two or three hours of cleaning and preparation each evening, Christenson said. The new regulations have added a new set of cleaning requirements. Any hand-washed dishes would have to be bleached for at least 10 seconds after washing, for example, which Christenson called an "unnecessary burden." She agreed with other requirements, such as fences and mulch in outdoor play areas.
State officials worked on the new regulations for about four years, using input from the child care provider community to create new rule books that apply to licensed center-based child care programs as well as home programs such as Christenson's.
Child care providers have a one-year grace period to comply with the most of the requirements and two years to comply with new educational and training requirements.
“We really look at this as a learning year," said Reeva Murphy, deputy commissioner for the Child Development Division at the Department for Children and Families.
The state tracked child care closures from May 31 to Nov. 30. In that six-month period surrounding the announcement of the new regulations, Murphy said 49 licensed child care centers closed and 47 centers opened.
The greatest losses came for registered home-based programs. Vermont typically loses about 50 home child care programs each year, Murphy said. The state lost 91 programs from May to November, while 40 new programs opened. The net loss of 51 programs represents as many as 500 slots for kids.
Murphy said she would have more complete data about child care closures in May, after a full year of tracking the regulations.
Murphy said the Department for Children and Families is working hard to educate child care providers about the new regulations, and she encouraged anyone with questions to call their licensing field specialist. She said she only attributes a small number of child care closures to the new rules.
“We did not assume we would see a lot of closings due to regulations because we really felt pretty confident about the process we followed," Murphy said.
The new regulations come as many Vermont families struggle to find affordable high-quality child care. A recent report from the advocacy group Let’s Grow Kids estimated that regulated child care programs can accommodate about 53 percent of Vermont infants and toddlers with working parents who are likely to need care.
At one home-based child care in Winooski, the end came Friday.
Nicole Goulette, who has been a child care provider for 20 years in Winooski, said she was closing as a direct result of what she called "overwhelming" regulations. The new 112-page regulation manual requires registered child care home providers to have higher levels of education and training and also impose new requirements for home health and safety.
"There's goofy stuff like water testing," Goulette said. "Well, I live in the city."
Goulette said she could comply with the new regulations by spending time and money — attending classes in the evenings, for example — but instead she decided to close her doors for good. She said she had never had any problems with safety at her home child care. The state's child care database, which lists official inspection reports since 2007, lists no violations at Goulette's address.
Friday was Goulette's final day in business, and she struggled to say goodbye to the three children in her care.
"Their kids are my family," Goulette said.
Goulette often gets calls from parents searching for a place to care for their children, especially infants.
"People are just desperate for quality child care," Goulette said.
Murphy, the state official at the Department for Children and Families, is hopeful that Gov. Phil Scott's budget proposal with an additional $7.5 million for child care subsidies will make a difference for Vermont kids.
“If more parents have more money in their pockets to pay for child care, then the capacity and quality of child care grows," Murphy said.
State lawmakers are reviewing the governor's proposal.
Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum.