Vermont Early Childhood Efforts
By Margaret Maley
Vermont has seen significant energy and commitment around initiatives that support our youngest children. The STARS quality rating program, Act 166 for universal Pre-K, and BBF’s Early Childhood Action Plan and Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Summit are a few to be highlighted. Despite these efforts, access to high quality and affordable child care is on the decline, and its impact has been devastating for families across Vermont.
As the BBF regional coordinator for Franklin/Grand Isle counties as well as the Early Childhood Resource Team Leader at Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, supervising staff who are immersed in the child care world, I have witnessed the crisis unfold over time. Not convinced by my anecdotal evidence? According to the Vermont Regulated Child Care Program Report on Program Closures, in July of 2009, there were 170 registered home providers in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. By September of 2017, there were 100. Since June, this region has lost 447 slots for children (Vermont Department for Children and Families Child Development Division, 2017.) Unfortunately this trend is not unique; many Vermonters, including families and providers, are struggling with this same issue. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Childcare report states that high quality early care and learning is not affordable for 90 percent of Vermont families (2016).
Complex needs in complex times
The next question you might ask is, where is this coming from? The short answer is that, like any complex system, there are multiple factors at play. The long answer is comprised of the most and least obvious of motivations. From a local level, Franklin/Grand Isle has lost a significant amount of providers, leaving parents with few choices and nearly no infant slots. Why? When providers were asked in a survey provided by the Child Care Action Team, the top three reasons weren’t burnout or the regulations. Instead, they were choosing a career with different benefits/hours, moving out of state, and dealing with family or individual illness. Shifting to a systems perspective, take into consideration the complexity in finding a suitable balance between the need for lower childcare costs for families paired with the equally critical need for higher wages for childcare providers. Consider the choice between accepting co-pays to run your childcare business or taking the loss so your families can meet their basic needs. We also can’t forget the children’s needs: the toxic stress experienced by many children exacerbates the need for supportive, high-quality, consistent environments that foster healthy child development.
As difficult as these challenges are, it’s not an impossible lift. Across Vermont, conversations are happening with regards to professionalizing the field of early care while simultaneously increasing child care financial assistance for families. The Blue Ribbon Commission recommended adjusting the Child Care Financial Assistance Program subsidy rates and increasing financial supports to providers (Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care, 2016). Franklin/Grand Isle agrees! While the BRC was hard at work advocating for these changes, our region started brainstorming ways in which we could address this crisis from a community, grassroots perspective and start making changes at a local level. Thus, the Child Care Action Team was formed.
A collaboration is born
“From birth and beyond, every baby born has access to a learning environment that is the right fit for their family”. A fitting and hopeful vision that was born out of the disheartening state of affairs for early care providers and families. The Child Care Action Team, abbreviated to CCAT in the region, came to fruition as many great ideas do; a conversation between two individuals greatly impacted by the current and historical child care landscape in Vermont. When asked how it began, Michelle Trayah, the Child Care and Adult Food Program Coordinator stated “When we were talking about it, I said to Amy, we have a committee on everything, probably even one on how to cross the street safely. So why do we not have one for child care?”
The Amy in that story is Amy Johnson, then BBF Regional Coordinator, now Parent Child Center director. Amy has experienced first-hand the reality of finding child care in Chittenden County. Amy recalls this experience, stating “We found a caring home childcare provider but at the last minute she realized she was too ill to care for a young child and we were left scrambling, just a few days before Luna needed full-day, full-week care. We called numerous people but everyone was full, it was nearly impossible to find an infant slot. At the last moment, I reached out to a childcare center that I had facilitated trainings for in the past. I knew and trusted them and they found a slot for my child. We were incredibly lucky but it also meant that I had to drive 30 minutes in the opposite direction from work to pick-up and drop-off my daughter from childcare. It shouldn’t have to be this hard though. People shouldn’t have to start looking for care when they are 8 weeks pregnant, and they should have options so they can find the best fit for their child. When you mix the personal and professional it was a no-brainer that we needed to start an action team to work toward solving the child care crisis in the region!”
For the first meeting, a diverse group of stakeholders were invited, with over 20 people in attendance! The attendees represented various agencies including the Child Development Division, United Way, Vermont Birth to Five, as well as local legislators, Parent Child Center staff, families, and providers. Rich and informative conversations erupted around child care licensing, Universal Pre-K, the CCV professional development system, and legislative updates, with consistent willingness from all to contribute their expertise, offer solutions, and provide clarity when necessary. The desire to impact change combined with the use of a collective impact model created working committees within the group, each with their own goals and outcomes. The committees are focused on the following: Business, Act 166, Marketing and Recruitment, Retention of Providers, and Research on What Works. We know that it can take time for any group seeking effective change to make an impact, which is why it has been critical to have the CCAT planning committee working diligently behind the scenes to ensure each agenda aligns with the most pressing regional issues while allowing space for working committees to connect and create actionable plans.
As CCAT continues its work in the region, it remains committed to this central belief: access to high-quality early care and education benefits whole communities; families are able to contribute to the workforce, money flows into the economy, small business owners are supported, the overall health of children and families improves, and most importantly, positive early learning environments support the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children, creating a strong foundation for their future.
Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care (2016.) Final
Report. Retrieved from http://buildingbrightfutures.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/VT-BRC-Final-Report-1.pdf
Vermont Department for Children and Families Child Development Division (April 2017).
Vermont Regulated Child Care Program Report on Program Closures. Retrieved from http://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/dcf/files/CDD/Reports/April_2017_Closed_Program_Report.pdf