Day care aims to ease short­age

Sun­rise Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter an oa­sis in Stam­ford’s child care ‘desert’

Stamford Advocate - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — When Sun­rise Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter popped up on Hoyt Street last year, it was some re­lief in the so-called desert.

“Desert” might not be the first word that comes to mind when de­scrib­ing Stam­ford. But it’s how the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress has clas­si­fied its day care cov­er­age dur­ing at least the last two years.

New data from the cen­ter shows Stam­ford re­mains a day care desert, mean­ing there are three times more chil­dren than li­censed day care slots in ar­eas with more than 50 chil­dren un­der the age of 5.

Cen­sus data gath­ered by CAP in­di­cates Stam­ford has about 8,386 chil­dren un­der the age of 5, but nearly half the ca­pac­ity in day care slots with about 4,089 across the city. And this doesn’t ac­count for slots that are ac­tu­ally open.

Num­bers from 2017 show ca­pac­ity dropped in the last year. Ear­lier num­bers showed a day care ca­pac­ity of 4,200. The num­ber of chil­dren un­der 5 in the city has dipped from 8,660.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Way of Con­necti­cut, 430 re­fer­rals were given for in­fant and tod­dler care in Stam­ford and 126 for preschool­ers from Septem­ber to De­cem­ber 2018 through 2-1-1 Child Care, a statewide re­source and re­fer­ral agency they ad­min­is­ter.

On the flip side, they re­ported only about 14 per­cent of city child care cen­ters had avail­able spots for in­fants. Even fewer — 7 per­cent — had room for tod­dlers. Fam­ily day cares had 31 per­cent avail­abil­ity rates for in­fants and 37 per­cent for preschool­ers.

While most of the short­age in Stam­ford re­mains north of the Mer­ritt Park­way, some down­town neigh­bor­hoods are af­fected.

Alex Jung, direc­tor of Sun­rise Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter, said part of the ap­peal of her day care cen­ter — lo­cated off Wash­ing­ton Boule­vard — was its prox­im­ity to trans­porta­tion hubs for work­ing par­ents, even those who live farther away from down­town.

“I like the lo­ca­tion be­cause it’s close to 95, which has ac­cess to what­ever towns the par­ents has to go to for work,” Jung said. “It’s also close to the train sta­tion. We are about two miles from the Mer­ritt Park­way. ... Fifty per­cent of the fam­i­lies work in the city, but I also have fam­i­lies that work in Green­wich, Nor­walk. It’s the ac­cess to the place. It’s very easy to get in here and leave. They can be in the train sta­tion in five min­utes.”

Jung de­cided to open her own day care cen­ter af­ter UBS closed its fa­cil­ity — where she had been the direc­tor — for chil­dren of em­ploy­ees in 2016.

Jung, 52, has more than 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in child care and ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and a decade of teach­ing first grade un­der her belt.

“Par­ents asked me, ‘why don’t you open a child care (cen­ter)?’ ” Jung said. “I said that’s my goal, but not yet. But a lot of par­ents didn’t have a plan B. When the time came, they didn’t know what to do with the chil­dren…it was the trust. UBS was like a big fam­ily be­cause all the em­ploy­ees used to work at the same place. It was dif­fi­cult for them to find a trusted place.”

She and her hus­band, Mickey, re­built most of the for­mer build­ing and last month opened the day care cen­ter, which can ac­com­mo­date up to 37 chil­dren. They still have open­ings for tod­dlers and 10 open slots for in­fants, a rar­ity con­sid- er­ing the strict state guide­lines on how many chil­dren un­der 3 can be in a cen­ter.

“Any day care might have preschool pro­grams, but not in­fants,” Mickey Jung said. “It’s easy to open a day care for preschool­ers, but not in­fants. The re­quire­ments are much more.”

It took the Jungs more than a year to re­ceive per­mis­sions from the city to build a day care cen­ter, re­con­struct the fa­cil­ity and get ap­proval and proper li­cens­ing from the state. Dur­ing that time, many UBS par­ents had to hire au pairs and babysit­ters, turn to fam­ily or even take time off from work to find the proper child care or cen­ters that fit their hours. Alex Jung said she’s open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and doesn’t charge for night hours to ac­com­mo­date com­muter par­ents. Many UBS par­ents have since en­rolled their chil­dren at Sun­rise.

Jung warns the jour­ney to open­ing a child care cen­ter may not be as sim­ple as peo­ple think. In ad­di­tion to prop­erly equip­ping the build­ing, she’s still search­ing for cer­ti­fied staff with child devel­op­ment as­so­ciate cre­den­tials and at least one year of day care ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You can’t have any­body in the room,” said Jung, who has five em­ploy­ees who care for chil­dren and guide older ones through a loosely struc­tured cur­ricu­lum. “The peo­ple need to have ex­pe­ri­ence. They need to have a lot of train­ing to feed the chil­dren, change them. It sounds easy, but it’s not. You have to do it the right way. ... You can feed the child the wrong breast milk. When peo­ple talk about child care, they don’t think about all those things that are very im­por­tant de­tails.”

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Chil­dren play at the new Sun­rise Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter in Stam­ford on Thurs­day. A new re­port says Stam­ford has a dearth of child-care fa­cil­i­ties.

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Direc­tor Alex Jung looks over a class­room at the new Sun­rise Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter on Hoyt Street in Stam­ford on Thurs­day.

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