Child care de­mand grow­ing

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — For her job with Thom­son Reuters, Julie Fraser trav­els across the state to train col­leagues in le­gal re­search. Other days, she works from home.

Ei­ther way, the North Stam­ford mom had at least an hour-long com­mute for months.

Fraser, 39, is the mother of two boys, ages 2 and 9. In Fe­bru­ary, her fam­ily moved to North Stam­ford from Spring­dale. It re­sulted in Fraser need­ing an ex­tra hour each morn­ing to drop off her younger son at Build­ing Blocks day care on Camp Av­enue and then her older child at Dav­en­port Ridge El­e­men­tary School.

“If I have to be in Hart­ford at 10 a.m. and I have a 45-minute drop-off rou­tine, that means I’m leav­ing my house at 8 a.m.,” she said. “It’s a jug­gling act be­ing a work­ing mom. Ev­ery minute counts.”

Re­lief came in Septem­ber, when Fraser en­rolled her youngest closer to home in the Ital­ian Cen­ter’s new early learn­ing pro­gram. Un­til the Ital­ian Cen­ter’s fa­cil­ity re­opened last month af­ter a fire, there was no day care fa­cil­ity closer to Fraser’s home.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, Stam­ford is a so-called “day care desert,” mean­ing there are three times as many chil­dren as li­censed day care slots in an area with more than 50 chil­dren un­der the age of 5.

Stam­ford has about 125 li­censed day care providers, ac­cord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Of­fice of Early Child­hood. Data com­piled by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress shows the ca­pac­ity of these day cares is around 4,200. By com­par­i­son, the most re­cent U.S. Cen­sus shows there are about 8,660 chil­dren un­der the age of 5 liv­ing in Stam­ford.

Across Con­necti­cut, 44 per­cent of res­i­dents live in an area with­out ad­e­quate child care, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter of Amer­i­can Progress. More than half of res­i­dents in day care deserts have a be­low-av­er­age in­come and about half are black or His­panic. In the ar­eas with a short­age, 41 per­cent of them are white and earn more than the me­dian in­come.

“When we think about the no­tion of a day care desert, what we’re re­ally talk­ing about is in­equities at the very be­gin­ning of chil­dren’s lives,” said Wendy Sim­mons, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and eq­uity at the re­search/ad­vo­cacy group, Con­necti­cut Voices for Chil­dren. “Be­cause of the ex­pense, even in places that have low lev­els of child care, peo­ple with means and re­sources will al­ways have ac­cess and ac­cess to the best.”

Day care de­mand

Ann Lisse John­son, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter’s Sara Walker Nurs­ery School, said the JCC’s Kin­der­place Pro­gram hired at least five more teach­ers as en­roll­ment nearly dou­bled for chil­dren ages 1 to 4 this fall.

John­son said they ex­panded the pro­gram to 80 chil­dren to avoid turn­ing par­ents away and main­tain­ing a wait list that usu­ally had at least three fam­i­lies on it.

“It was a bit of a gut (feel­ing) based on the calls,” John­son said. “We have more chil­dren en­rolled than we ever had. There is a need and we’re try­ing to meet it.”

Ex­pand­ing is not al­ways sim­ple. State reg­u­la­tions limit the ca­pac­ity of chil­dren based on their age and the size of the fa­cil­ity. There must be one adult for ev­ery four in­fants and tod­dlers un­der the age of 3. The ra­tio in­creases to 1 to 10 for chil­dren older than 3. In fam­ily day cares, there can be up to six chil­dren who do not at­tend school full-time and three school-age kids.

This makes find­ing child care for younger chil­dren even more chal­leng­ing.

“By far, the largest gap in child care in the city of Stam­ford is for in­fants and tod­dlers, our youngest chil­dren who are un­der­go­ing fun­da­men­tal brain de­vel­op­ment and need a safe, healthy and nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” said David Wilkin­son, com­mis­sioner of the Of­fice of Early Child­hood.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port from the Of­fice of Early Child­hood, there’s a short­age of nearly 2,500 li­censed child care spa­ces for in­fants and tod­dlers.

Danielle Ce­laj, di­rec­tor of Build­ing Blocks, said the Camp Av­enue fa­cil­ity re­cently in­creased its ca­pac­ity by eight slots by adding an­other in­fant/ tod­dler room.

To add the new room, Ce­laj said Build­ing Blocks needed ap­proval from the build­ing depart­ment, fire mar­shal, their state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and state li­cens­ing of­fices. But the ex­pan­sion is al­ready pay­ing off, con­sid­er­ing some par­ents are call­ing to re­serve spots even be­fore their child is born.

“We had the de­mand for it,” she said.

De­spite the high de­mand for child care, data from the Con­necti­cut Voices for Chil­dren shows more pro­grams are clos­ing in the state than open­ing. The prob­lem, Sim­mons said, is the lack of liv­ing wage. The Bu­reau of La­bor Statis­tics re­ported in May 2017 that the av­er­age child care worker in Con­necti­cut made $12.88 an hour, which amounts to less than $27,000 a year.

Sim­mons said there needs to be more govern­ment fund­ing for early child care.

“The ra­tio is there for qual­ity. In­fants and tod­dlers re­quire a lot of sup­port,” Sim­mons said. “That’s why most other coun­tries have dealt with this through govern­ment sub­si­dies. We’re just a lit­tle be­hind.”

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