December 16, 2017

Guest Column: Vt. must do more to make childcare accessible, sustainable

By Paula Nadeau

All Vermont families deserve access to high-quality affordable childcare that supports the individual growth of their children and families.

As a childcare provider and a parent of two young boys, I have experienced many of Vermont’s childcare challenges. I am the owner and director of a small, licensed infant and toddler program in Williston. One of my biggest challenges from an employer perspective is hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers that are passionate and dedicated to serving Vermont’s families and children.

This isn’t for a lack of qualified teachers.

It’s because of a lack of funding, other than tuition from parents, to pay these teachers a livable wage. The average annual income for a child care worker in Vermont is only $24,850—often without benefits. This is $6,000 LESS than what the state of Vermont says is a livable annual income.

I’m also concerned with the cost of care for my current families. Vermont families are struggling to pay for childcare. Middle-income families with two parents and two young children are spending 28 to 40 percent of their income on childcare — that’s more than the average family spends on food, housing or transportation. I know that it is a hardship for families, but I also have a need to keep my doors open for them to have a childcare option at all.

As a parent of two young boys ages 8 and 4, I have also struggled with the tough choices parents are forced to make.

I currently send my four-year-old to a wonderful licensed preschool in Williston. The cost of sending him there is stressful for our family.

We qualify for Act 166 universal preschool funding and that is tremendously helpful, however, my family is in need of full-time care and therefore, we are responsible for the remainder of the tuition after the 10 hours paid for by Act 166. This is a financial stress for us, as what we owe is a large portion of our income. Furthermore, Act 166 only covers their portion for 35 weeks of the year and we require year-round care for our children.

The remaining 17 weeks of the year we pay full tuition to keep the spot in our son’s program. We have looked for help with this, but have never qualified for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program based on the current financial guidelines, even though our family struggles to get by.

In the past, I have even left my job, in childcare, to stay home and care for my children because it made more financial sense, but did not put us in a better financial situation. This decision did not come easily as I love my work and I had put eight years of time and effort in to build relationships with families, as well as work towards my degree in early childhood.

I know that there are so many families living in our communities across the state that are faced with this same decision every day. The stress and anxiety of these kinds of choices trickles down from our parents and providers to the children they interact with daily.

I know my oldest son felt that stress, and I know stress experienced in the early years has a negative impact on early brain development. This is not something I want any child or any family to have to experience.

My hope for Vermont is that we close the wage gap for childcare providers so that they may care for both their own families and the families in their programs to the very best of their ability.

Our state needs to show them that the work they do matters and is valued as a statewide priority, by investing in families and children. Families should not have to choose between getting a college education or building a career and making certain that their children get the very best that high quality childcare has to offer.

I hope that everyone reading this will sign the petition at letsgrowkids.org and show your support for prioritizing children and increasing public investments in high-quality, affordable childcare to ensure every Vermont child has a strong start.

In addition, if you are a parent, provider or early childhood advocate, please join me and other supporters on Wednesday, March 15 at Early Childhood Day at the Legislature, in Montpelier, for a rally on the statehouse steps starting at 1 p.m. Show your legislators that you want what’s best for Vermont families, too.

Paula Nadeau is the owner and director of Tiny Dreamers in Early Childhood, LLC, a childcare facility on North Williston Road.

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