Mar 31, 2021

Closure of St. Albans YMCA child care program brings issue of child care to fore

ST. ALBANS CITY — The closure of St. Albans’ YMCA childcare facility has brought the importance of accessible childcare to the forefront of local discussion. The facility closed its doors Wednesday, leaving many questioning what other resources there are in the area.

“The community is working really hard and the Parent Child center here at NCSS at The Family Center is working really hard to make sure that we’re able to place any of the children [from the closing YMCA facility],” said Laura Hayford-Saborowski, a CIS specialized child care coordinator for The Family Center of Northwestern Counseling & Support Services in St. Albans. “I think that providers have really stepped up in our area … Everyone’s being really flexible to see what we can do to support the families within Franklin and Grand Isle towns.”

The YMCA center was open for 25 years and was the only five-star accredited childcare facility in the area. Sixteen employees lost their jobs at the center and 38 families have lost childcare.

Experts have estimated that up to 50% of centers across the country could close permanently due to COVID-19.

“We loved the YMCA staff and their programming. We felt it was a safe, clean and structured learning environment for our daughter,” said local parent Catherine Marrin.

The family was devastated to find out the program would be closing. Despite the resources given out by the YMCA, some families feel completely abandoned. Although there may be enough openings numerically, variables across providers such as hours of operation, cost, and location can make it difficult for families to find openings that match their needs.

Doug Bishop of the YMCA said that Burlington’s YMCA 0- to 5-year-old childcare carries the highest demand. There was a time where the wait list had about 100 names. Childcare is an expensive business, they couldn’t afford to continue the St. Albans program without the federal partner they had prior to water damage at the Tabor building, where they were located alongside United States Citizenship and Immigration Services until December.

Bishop said that the parents are, “appreciative and thankful for the care and support their families received. But yes, they’re in a tough position. And I’m sure that some of them are frustrated by the challenges they’re facing and trying to find care in a very tight market.”

“It is almost impossible to find care for children under the age of two in our state. I can’t begin to understand the challenges and logistics of implementing a public option for childcare in our state, but I do feel that the ‘fend for yourself’ and ‘you just have to make it to kindergarten’ narratives are unacceptable,” said Marrin.

Lindsay Hunn, family resource navigator for NCSS, acts as the child care referral specialist for Franklin and Grand Isle counties. She has been working to help find the best fit for children who need childcare after the YMCA’s closure, although she says she has not been contacted by all of the families.

“Because we’re a part of NCSS, people don’t necessarily know that the Parent Child center is here and we’re here to help,” said Hunn. “We are here to serve the needs of the community.”

Anyone in Franklin and Grand Isle counties who needs childcare, regardless of income, is free to use these referral services. Hunn works directly with providers in the area to identify openings and match children to the available center that best fits their needs. Those wanting support in finding childcare options should use this referral form, or contact Hunn directly at lindsay.hunn@ncssinc.org.

One big change in moving from the YMCA to other providers is that the YMCA childcare facility offered scholarships for families who were not able to otherwise afford the co-pay. Without these scholarships, there may be financial implications for having to switch providers.

Hunn says that childcare financial assistance is available, however unlike the referral services, needs are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This may mean that not all families previously receiving YMCA scholarships will be eligible.

According to Joint Fiscal Office statistics, 73% of people that are unemployed in Vermont are women. In certain industries such as hospitality, travel, tourism, and the food industry, women are the predominant workers. However, Meg Smith, director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, sees this as being a family issue and not just a women’s issue.

The St. Albans child care center closing, it’s just one more nail in the coffin for working families,” Smith said. “So women are being laid off, or they have to make the decision whether to stay working or to stay home and take care of their children. And that’s what’s so inherently unfair… it was really the double whammy when the schools closed during COVID. Not only was there no childcare, there was no regular school schedule.”

Editor’s note: This article is by Cailin Gramling and Madison Froelich, reporters with the Community News Service, a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

Click here to read this story on the St. Albans Messenger website. 

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