By Kim Howard
It’s a bit like the college admissions process. There are a number of options; research is required to find the right place; and once you find it, it costs a pretty penny.
While many parents of high school students expect to travel this road with their teens, few new and soon-to-be parents realize a similar journey is in store for them as they search for day care.
Parents “should be attempting to arrange for infant care as soon as they know they are pregnant,” advises Elizabeth Meyer, executive director of Child Care Resource, a Williston-based nonprofit. “ Infant care is always difficult to find, and particularly in Williston.”
Meyer should know. Her organization maintains a comprehensive database of nearly 400 Chittenden County childcare programs – centers and homes; accredited and not. The nonprofit helps hundreds of families find childcare and determine how to pay for it.
Currently Williston has seven openings for infants and toddlers in childcare centers, but only one of those slots is at an accredited facility, which often denotes higher quality, Meyer said.
Though there are more options for three- and four-year-olds, Meyer said, “ if you want the program that meets your needs in particular, it’s a good idea to get on the list six months ahead of time.”
Needs do vary from family to family.
“As an IBM employee, one of the biggest challenges is the 12-hour schedule,” said Williston resident Laura McClure, who works at IBM and is on the board of directors for Child Care Resource. “There are employees at IBM that struggle with it because you work 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.” and it’s difficult to find daycare programs that accommodate those hours.
Without childcare, parents of young children cannot go to work, Meyer said. Businesses realize that and use the nonprofit’s resources for employees, too.
IBM went a step further, according to McClure, when it gave a grant to Child Care Resource so that it could buy a private Williston daycare center that was planning to close.
“They recognized that there are a limited number of slots for daycare and wanted to make sure that daycare didn’t go out of business,” McClure said. Child Care Resource operates the daycare at the Williston Federated Church.
State law now requires towns to incorporate daycare into town planning in part because of the connection to economic development. The new Williston town plan incorporates day care into its vision by promising “its planning and development review process do not place unreasonable limitations on child care facilities.” According to the town plan, efforts include changing bylaws to allow home childcare in residential zoning districts and plans to revise bylaws “to make it clear that child care is a permitted accessory use” in schools, churches and places of employment.
Child Care Resource information indicates there are 15 licensed childcare centers and eight registered family childcare homes in Williston, and that an estimated 45 percent of the slots are filled by Williston children. It is unknown how many Williston children are in daycare facilities outside of town, though an estimated 70 to 80 percent of Williston families have all parents in the workforce, based on the organization’s interpretation of 2000 census data.
Meyer said that the financial burden of childcare also is significant for most families. Estimates from a little over a year ago indicate that facilities with a four-to-one child-teacher ratio cost about $8,840 a year – more than a semester’s worth of tuition at a Vermont state college.
Meyer said some families are eligible for state assistance, though she warns that policymakers need to bring the eligibility scale up to date as it is based on 1999 salary data.
“Families are making more than scale says, but they really need childcare subsidies,” Meyer said. With or without subsidies, childcare is “a great financial burden for families.”
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