What can we do to boost childcare capacity now?

By Chloe Learey, Executive Director, Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, May 30, 2023

With the recent passage of the childcare bill by the Legislature, the promise of a significant investment in childcare is on the horizon in Vermont, and many of us in the field are hopeful. Of course, details need to be worked out before the potential positive impact can come to fruition. If we want to take full advantage of this investment, we need to keep figuring out what to do in the meantime to continue building the childcare capacity – a sector of critical importance to our economic health.

The Child Care Counts Coalition in Windham County has been focused on maintaining and building capacity in the region for over five years. The most recent initiative includes a video series to share resources with people who might be interested in starting a home-based childcare business. The time and cost of setting up a registered home program is less than opening a center and is a promising vehicle for adding childcare slots relatively quickly.

Ironically several years ago, we lost one of the state resources that significantly helped home-based programs get started and stay open. Windham Child Care Association had a grant which helped fund a Resource Development Specialist. This person was available to help early educators, including those who ran registered home-based childcare, with many different aspects of being in the field, from professional development to licensing requirements. The loss of this grant was significant and ultimately led to the merger between the Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development and Windham Child Care. This is a case where the loss is much greater than the organization and the money. This has become more apparent as we witness the evolving crisis in childcare.

We can make videos and share resources, but ultimately, having someone in a consultant role helps people navigate the specifics of entering the childcare business. For instance, connecting the dots between the small business development center, the licensing regulations and the town permitting process could significantly encourage people to tackle what might feel daunting alone. While there is a strong, helpful peer network in the region, everyone already has a full-time job. Having a dedicated person like the Resource Development Specialist could make a big difference. It is unfortunate this funding went away, but the good news is that we do not have to recreate the wheel. We can look at what worked and adapt it to the situation we are faced with today. So, if we could find funding, this would be a good investment to consider.

Another exciting initiative in the region that the coalition is supporting is a program at Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) that is offering training for refugees who are considering entering the early childhood education field. BDCC is using some of the resources the Child Care Counts Coalition developed and adapting them for this targeted group. This could lead to more early educators and potentially more slots if people come out of the program interested in a home-based business. This is the kind of creative thinking we need to address the childcare crisis from many angles.

Childcare will continue to be a complicated challenge, and keeping it viable will require cross-sector collaboration and funding. The pandemic highlighted the significance of childcare in all our lives, even if we do not have young children ourselves. We all benefit when we have a strong childcare system. Let’s continue to keep that front and center as we build towards a stronger future.