Almost half of CT residents live in a ‘child care desert’

Babysitter Tara Kennedy receives more potential families than she has space to register.

“I get several requests each week from families looking for child care, either moving to the area, returning to work, or wishing their children to return to the world of socializing after not seeing anyone for a while. a year and a half, “said Kennedy, director and owner of Cedar Gables Preschool & Childcare in Danbury.

This school year alone, Kennedy received 107 email inquiries about his pre-Christmas program. More and more requests have come by word of mouth or by phone.

“I can only have a limited number of children in my center, so my hands are tied,” she said. “The demand is so high right now, and I really don’t know what the parents are doing. “

Danbury is one of many child care deserts in Connecticut, where 44% of the population lives in areas without enough child care options, according to new research from the Center for American Progress, a group progressive thinking. Calculations were based on providers located within a 20-minute drive, taking into account speed limits and road networks.

Other deserts include Bridgeport, Stamford and Groton, and have resulted in a dearth of opportunities to enrich child development, support working families and strengthen the local economy.

“There is just no supply,” said MK Falgout, author of the report. “Even though families can afford child care, they can’t find niches – there isn’t enough capacity. “

The estimate predates the pandemic, during which the availability of child care services in Connecticut may have declined. Data from the state’s Office of the Early Years suggests that federal COVID assistance has helped many child care providers overcome planned shutdowns. But while the state has maintained a constant supply of licensed programs, COVID-19 could affect the number of families served.

“While the number of programs has not changed, we have seen across the country that we have lost over 100,000 child care workers who left the industry and did not return, which has a huge impact on the ability of suppliers to operate. at full capacity, ”said Falgout.

Classrooms statewide have closed as daycares struggled to recruit and retain workers, according to the Office of the Early Years. Last month, 98 of the 1,607 classrooms in state-funded programs were closed, according to state data. Almost half cited personnel issues as the reason for the closures.

Part of the problem is compensation. According to the researchers, the median hourly wage for educators in Connecticut is $ 13.74, compared to $ 38.11 for kindergarten teachers plus benefits. Rates are often lower for home providers, who work some of the longest days in the industry.

Kamara Moodie, a family day care educator for 15 years, operates the 24 hour day care center Lil Sunshine Home Days in Bridgeport, affiliated with All Our Kin. An immigrant from Jamaica, Moodie struggled to find child care as a young mother working to earn a college degree.

“I came into early childhood because I wanted to make a difference for young parents,” she said. “A lot of times I had to drop out of school because I didn’t have daycare. “

Families travel far and wide for his 24-hour care, including from Danbury and Stamford. One of his parent-clients is from New Haven to Bridgeport. “She couldn’t find someone in her area to work those unconventional hours,” Moodie said.

Moodie estimated that she gets two to five inquiries a week about her program and any openings.

“I always have a waiting list,” she says, even though she isn’t moving much. When a place opens, it is often quickly filled with the new baby or cousin of a current family.

Moodie called the work his life and livelihood, but like suppliers across the industry, they have said they need adequate compensation for the essential work they do.

“Child care is a very undervalued job for sure,” said Deb Monahan, CEO of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, which runs early childhood development programs in Southeast Connecticut. “This is really early care and early education, and it needs to be recognized and paid for properly. “

The programs in Norwich, New London and Groton are in an area of ​​concern for the Deserts of Child Care at the Early Years Office.

Monahan also cited “financial hurdles” to building or taking out a mortgage on expanded daycare centers and hope for federal investment, with complementary efforts from the state, through bond funds and other means to meet the needs. needs of families.

The Early Years Commissioner was concerned about the future of the industry without continued federal investment.

“We were losing childcare capacity before the pandemic,” said Beth Bye, commissioner of the state’s Early Years Office. “The temporary supports have strengthened us, but without Build Back Better, if everything returns to the same as in 2019, we will return to this downward trajectory. “

The state has made several investments in its early childhood workforce, including campaigns to attract applicants to the field and encourage existing staff at state-funded institutions to stay. Officials also looked at home providers to fill geographic gaps in care and expanded public resources such as the Smart Start competitive grant program, which provides funds to establish or expand preschool programs in public schools. At the same time, the state is also preparing for federal investments.

“We want to be the first state to walk out of the gate,” Bye said. “We want to be the most family-friendly state in the country. “

About admin

Check Also

KY Board of Post-Secondary Education Approves Tuition, University Programs and Trust Fund Guidelines

The Council on Post-Secondary Education gave final approval to the campus proposals for tuition and …