Valley News – Lack of child care forces out families


WOODSTOCK — There is a crisis of need for child care spaces in the Upper Valley and in the country at large as demand grows and providers struggle to retain workers.

The Woodstock Economic Development Commission established a child care working group in August in an attempt to address the problem locally. Todd Ulman, the working group’s chairman and a town resident, told the commission at its last meeting on Oct. 6, that the working group had discovered that 27 families in Woodstock that have a child under 3-years-old don’t have care and that six of those families were moving away because of the issue. 

The state of Vermont needs an additional 8,700 full-time child care slots to meet current demands, according to data from Let’s Grow Kids, a Vermont-based child care-advocacy nonprofit. In Windsor County, which includes Woodstock, 628 total slots are needed (352 for infants, 62 for toddlers and 114 for preschoolers) and neighboring Orange County has need for 582 total slots. 

The working group’s mandate is to increase child care capacity in Woodstock and to do so “as fast as humanly possible,” Ulman said in a phone interview. The working group conducted a survey in August and September asking people interested in the issue to define what exactly they found the problem is with child care in the town.

The vast majority of respondents said their greatest issue was availability. There just aren’t enough available spaces at the local care centers, which include Rainbow Preschool, the Community Campus, Woodstock Nursery School and Woodstock Christian Child Care, with a few respondents noting that their children have been on waiting lists for upwards of a year or more.

Cost was another obstacle mentioned by respondents. One respondent, Zach Niles, a Barnard resident who has one child attending Rainbow Preschool, called the monthly fee a “strain.”

“The monthly costs of sending our child full time makes the question of whether it’s worth it for one of us to take a service position at a local business a legitimate question,” Niles wrote.

Rainbow’s classes cost $69 for the full day for infants and 1- to 2-year olds, and $58 for 2- to 3-year olds and pre-kindergarten children.

Affordability is a major concern and many Vermont families who are lucky enough to get their kids into one of the rare child care openings spend as much as 30% of their household income on child care services alone, Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards said in a phone interview. Vermont’s child care system is “not working” and that while parents can’t afford quality child care, early educators also are not making enough currently to stay in the field, Richards said.

“To summarize what’s broken about child care, there’s not enough money in the system and the money almost entirely goes to affordability,” Richards said.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for child care workers was $27,490 in 2021. That shakes out to $13.22 per hour nationwide.

According to the same data, in Vermont, child care workers earn an annual mean wage of $32,950, or $15.84 per hour. New Hampshire’s rates are much lower than the national average, with child care workers in the Granite State earning an annual mean wage of $24,490, or $11.77 per hour. 

“Early educators can’t afford to make less,” Richards said. “86% of Vermont child care centers are experiencing staffing shortages because of the systemic underfunding of the system, which then becomes basically underfunding of the wage for the early educator.”

Early educators were “doing a first responder’s job without first responder’s pay,” Ulman said.

The working group’s plan to combat these issues in Woodstock is to fund local care centers through grants from the EDC with the ultimate goal of raising total capacity at those centers. Ulman said the working group has already received a proposal from Woodstock Christian Child Care and expects to receive proposals from Rainbow, Community Campus and Bridgewater Community Childcare Center, which Ulman noted has 13 of its 14 child care spaces filled by children from Woodstock.

Ulman said Woodstock Christian’s proposal focuses more on improving existing equipment and infrastructure because they don’t have the same personnel issues other care centers have. Rainbow’s proposal, meanwhile, would help increase employee salaries and improve benefits.

The EDC is expected to vote on the Woodstock Christian proposal at its next meeting on Thursday, Ulman said. If the commission approves it, it would then be passed along for recommendation to the Town Selectboard. Ulman said he expects the EDC to spend as much as $250,000 on child care proposals in Woodstock.

During the Oct. 6 meeting, EDC Chairman Jon Spector said the money would come from an EDC reserve fund.

If approved, Ulman said the proposals could create potentially 50-60 and as many as 70 new slots for child care in the area. 

“I think that Woodstock is in a great position to be able to help these places get over the hump,” Ulman said. “(Woodstock) is a very rich town, we have a lot of opportunities here to help those in need.”

Any progress the town of Woodstock makes in addressing its child care shortage will help grease the wheels of a greater change to the child care system throughout the region, Richards said.

“No one community can solve this alone, not just because of the sheer size of the numbers (of spaces needed), but because of the systemic nature of the business model,” Richards said.

Ray Couture can be reached at [email protected].

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