I moved to Norwich, Vermont from New York City in 1996 with a 14-month-old son and my husband. I was coming to Vermont to take a position in higher education. We were a young family, excited about the future and raising our children in beautiful Vermont.
The search for child care options
When we arrived in Vermont and began our search for child care, we had no idea it would be so difficult. We were coming from a situation where we were fortunate to be able to have someone come into our home and care for our infant son. It hadn’t been difficult to find someone to provide the quality of care that we were looking for—but that was in New York City. Now in Vermont, we found ourselves struggling to find a center or child care provider who even had an opening for our son!
I began to question whether I would be able to start my new job. I remember thinking: if it is so difficult for us to find quality child care, how are other families with working moms making it work?
The search for child care was an extremely eye-opening experience for us, especially as young parents. I quickly learned that many families signed up for waiting lists at child care facilities early in their pregnancies or even before becoming pregnant! I also learned that finding the type of quality care we were looking for was nothing to be taken for granted—it was extremely difficult to find the situation that would work for our family and our children.
That was 18 years ago. Today in Vermont we have the Step Ahead Recognition System (also called STARS), which can help parents identify those providers who go above and beyond what is typically required of any child care program. Providers can earn up to five stars when they make their child care programs better, based on certain quality standards. Still, we have just over half (56%) of providers participating in the state’s STARS quality rating system. The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children is working through Vermont Birth to Three to help increase that participation rate.
Fragile structure of the child care business
When you look deeper into the business side of child care, it’s easy to see why quality places can be hard to find. The economics of running a child care business are tough. So many families—even with both parents working—cannot afford to pay the “true cost” of caring for their children. And, child care businesses cannot afford to pay enough to keep great teachers on their staff. Too often the good teachers are biding their time at a child care center until an opening appears at a local school district that can pay much higher salaries. So it becomes a vicious cycle.
Quality child care is a societal issue
I see the quest for quality child care as an issue bigger than the children and individual families it affects. It becomes an issue for our companies when their employees can’t find quality care. It becomes an issue for our communities when our children are not getting the solid start in life they need to be successful, productive citizens in the future. All our children deserve the best opportunity to succeed—and it’s in all of our interests to help make that possible.
The Permanent Fund’s work
In the end, we were fortunate to find a wonderful center to care for our children. Our three children are now teenagers, yet I continue to be thankful every day for the child care teachers they had who were also incredible resources for us as young parents. We learned so much from them!
But we still have much work ahead of us to transform the system of caring for our children in Vermont. That’s why I am so excited about the work the Permanent Fund is doing. As a board member, I can bring a first-hand experience of the child care challenges faced by working parents. And I am proud to be part of an organization that is striving to raise the quality of child care throughout Vermont while making it accessible for all children and families.
Permanent Fund Board Member Jennifer Williams, joint venture partner with Norwich Partners, is also executive director of the Children’s Fund of the Upper Valley.