Mar 1, 2019

New efforts to solve Vermont's child care crunch

WEST BURKE, Vt. (WCAX) Solving a child care crunch. Vermont has 564 licensed home child care providers but that is down nearly 27 percent since 2015. Those child care spots are especially critical in rural areas of the state. And they are, on average, cheaper than child care centers.

Our Cat Viglienzoni went to West Burke to see what the state is doing to encourage more people to open their homes.

Amber Bollman's home is a flurry of activity. Up to 10 energetic kids-- plus a few of her own-- keep her busy.

She opened her West Burke home to kids a little under a year ago after 12 years of working in the child care industry.

"I've always had a passion for children," Bollman said.

She hadn't always wanted to have her own space. She used to work for another child care spot.

"I was just not being able to make a livable wage by doing it," Bollman said. "So I was just looking for ways that I could stay in the field."

Starting her own business wasn't easy. She says without grants from Let's Grow Kids, she wouldn't have been able to do the testing and upgrades she needed to meet regulations.

"I was more worried about being able to fill up," Bollman said. "However, it wasn't a problem. I filled up immediately and have been bombarded with phone calls and messages from people looking for spots."

Studies show the demand is there. Twenty-one percent of Vermont's families rely on home-based care like Bollman's, especially outside of the metro areas.

"The more rural Vermont, the more we are relying on family child care homes to meet that need," said Christel Michaud, the director of child care licensing at the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

But Michaud says Vermont is part of a national trend. As home providers leave the child care industry, they aren't being replaced.

"You know, it's a difficult market. I think child care is experiencing the same thing as a lot of other businesses," Michaud said.

She says low unemployment makes it harder to recruit into the child care workforce. Especially when, as Bollman noted, the wages often aren't enough to make ends meet. So the state and Let's Grow Kids are partnering on several strategies, including:

-A marketing campaign to show people they can create a viable child care business in their home.

-Helping to walk them through the startup process.

-Giving them financial support.

-Helping to recruit staff.

-Identifying business supports.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Is it a sustainable business, child care?
Christel Michaud: It definitely is a sustainable business. And you have to have a good business model.

Back in West Burke, Bollman says the business isn't always easy but it's worth it. And she's booked until fall 2021.

"Basically, if you can provide a qualified service, people will come to you," she said.

The state says they are noticing some progress. They're seeing a slowing in the loss of child care capacity. And some of the investments made with grants from Let's Grow Kids are starting to pay off. They hope success stories like Bollman's will encourage other people to enter the market.

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