Access to child care critically needed in Northern New York | Public Service News


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Child care can be difficult to find for parents in the north country.

According to Cathy Brodeur, the director of the Jefferson-Lewis Childcare Project that is part of the Community Action Planning Council, availability of child care services in the north country is critical and lacking. There is a severe shortage of home-based child care affecting parents and communities in a variety of ways.

“There are not enough slots for the number of children that need care,” she said. “This puts parents in a position where they’re trying to figure out, ‘Should I go to work? Should I have my child in child care? Should I leave them with the next-door neighbor, should I change their care arrangement every day and just patch things together?’ It puts parents in an awful position.”

Joanna Habermann, director of community services at Jefferson Community College, said the lack of available slots in the area has lead the north country to a “child care desert” designation.



NNY is lacking in child care

Habermann


Ms. Brodeur said the wake-up call for the area was at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As workplaces and schools closed, parents were suddenly left with no options for child care and with jobs still to attend.

“School fills a child care need,” according to Ms. Brodeur, and gives parents the ability and opportunity to go to work each day without worrying where their children are and if they are being taken care of while the parents are away.

At a national average of more than $200 a week, according to BankRate.com, the cost of child care can be prohibitive to many families. This can force a two-parent household to decide if one of them needs to stay home, or if they can shuffle their child between houses each day so they have supervision while the parents are working.

CAPC, in conjunction with Jefferson and Lewis counties and the economic development agencies in each county, has been recruiting providers to open at-home child care recently. The counties, according to Ms. Brodeur, gave the CAPC money to set up funds to train providers and pay for repairs in their homes so they can pass inspections to be certified.

“The county pays through this fund for supplies when they open,” Ms. Brodeur said. “And we go out and we help them put together a list of supplies, toys and materials that they need” until the new home-based child care places are well established and can cover their own costs.

While rewarding, becoming an at-home child care provider is also difficult. There is a process which includes becoming licensed to have children in your home and “a lot of education and training that goes into it, and it’s a business,” Ms. Habermann said.

There are eight child care centers in Jefferson County and one in Lewis, but Ms. Brodeur said there needs to be more at-home child care options available. The larger centers support more densely populated areas like Watertown, but remote places and small towns need access to child care without having to drive far.

“We really need new people in Carthage, and we really need new people in Black River,” Ms. Brodeur said. Child care is also especially scarce in southern and northern Jefferson County. There is currently no family child care home in the village of Sackets Harbor, Cape Vincent or Alexandria Bay, according to Ms. Brodeur.

To draw people in to being at-home child care providers, Ms. Brodeur said the CAPC’s referral specialist will sometimes ask people looking for child care if they have ever considered doing it themselves if the parent lives in a place without easy access to child care.

The CAPC has also partnered with Jefferson Community College, the Small Business Development Center, Jefferson County Economic Development and Naturally Lewis to do at-home child care training programs. JCC has sent more than 30,000 mailers with ads to draw attention to “this program for people who want to open a child care business in their home.”

JCC has also put together a promotional video touting the benefits of becoming an at-home child care provider, which it plans to release on social media and other platforms. The college hopes to run another child care training program next year, which is offered as “100% free programming to our program participants,” according to Ms. Habermann.

“The dream is that more folks consider early childhood as a career pathway, whether that’s working at a center or opening the business in their home or going through formal education and getting into the school districts,” Ms. Habermann said. “There is a need overall for more of our workforce to do that, and we can get our adult workers in to do a business by educating them and providing resources support to do that.”

To assist families paying for child care, the state Office of Children and Family Services has expanded eligibility to include families of four that make up to $83,250 a year.

Ms. Brodeur also suggested businesses could support child care sites and families with children who need those services by buying several open slots from child care providers for their employees to use.

Having more child care available also benefits the economy. It allows parents to put their children into programs so they can both work, and more people in the workforce as child care providers.

“Attracting businesses here is very difficult without child care,” Ms. Brodeur said. “It’s a great place to live, it’s a very family friendly area. But it’s not so business friendly because the infrastructure to support workers is just not there.”

To become an at-home child care provider, you can call the CAPC at 315-782-4900, ext. 229 for assistance. You can also go online at wdt.me/dUwMxz and follow the links to start the journey to become a child care provider in your area.

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