Allison Stafford: Staffing must come first in solving the child care crisis


This commentary is by Allison Stafford, a faculty member at the University of Vermont and a resident of Fletcher.

There is no disputing that child care in Vermont is in dire straits. Too many children do not have access to the high-quality care and early education they need, and our economy depends on working parents having reliable care for their children. 

The problem is widely known and recent efforts (H.171) demonstrate the commitment of many people to improve child care in our state.

There is a push to open new child care centers to address the gap in the number of spots needed for children. However, this alone will not fix the problem, and in the short term could make it worse: The sparse number of early educators is not enough to serve even the existing centers, many of which are in danger of closing. 

The critical issue is inadequate staffing in child care centers.

The Burlington YMCA child care program my children have attended recently made the decision to close one of its sites, eliminating 32 spots for infants and toddlers. This came after attempting other measures to work with reduced staff, including decreasing open hours, but classrooms still had to be closed many days this year; these adjustments are common at other centers as well. 

There are simply not enough qualified child care workers to staff the classrooms. If we lose any staff at our center, including to a new center opening, we are likely to see more classrooms being closed, no net decrease of the community burden, and possibly multiple centers failing.

We need more early educators, and we need them now. How can we recruit and retain qualified people? We need to make it possible by paying them a livable wage. 

This cannot come from tuition increases, which are already high for families. It must come from government action on multiple levels.

The city of Burlington must address the severe housing crisis that makes it impossible for low-wage earners like early educators and students who work in child care to make enough money to live in the city. 

Our state government needs to support recruiting quality workers, including attracting people from out of state. 

State and federal governments must finally act on the knowledge that child care is a critical service for a functioning economy that is not successful with a capitalistic business model; it needs consistent monetary support, not just rescue funds.

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Tags: allison stafford, child care crisis, H.171, inadequate staffing, livable wage, not enough workers, state and federal governments


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