MONTPELIER — In recent months, Let's Grow Kids has been hearing concerns from child care providers and parents about the state's updated regulations for regulated child care programs, some of which go into effect Sept. 1. Providers are reporting that the updated regulations pose additional cost burdens to already financially-strapped programs, causing some programs to close their doors. These reports are prompting valuable discussions about the importance of high-quality early care and learning programs and how the chronic underfunding of our early childhood system has been negatively impacting Vermont's families, child care providers, communities, and especially children.
Every child deserves a strong start and equal chance in life, and for a majority of Vermont's youngest children, child care plays a critical role in supporting their early development. The updated child care regulations — which hadn't been revised since 2001 for center-based programs and 1996 for home-based programs — represent an important foundational step toward the development of a high-quality child care system.
The revised rules establish minimum requirements in areas such as health, safety, nutrition, staff qualifications and developmentally-appropriate program activities. The updates reflect an evolving scientific understanding of how children learn and develop. We know 90 percent of the brain is developed by age 5 and that high-quality early care and learning experiences in the first five years are crucial to laying a foundation for children's future success. The updated standards are a necessary step forward in establishing quality early childhood programming — but they are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing Vermont's child care challenge.
Vermont faces an alarming shortage of high-quality, affordable child care programs. This is due to the fact that even though on average middle-class parents pay 28 to 40 percent of their income on child care, the average income for providers is less than $25,000, usually without benefits or access to professional development opportunities, causing high rates of turnover. Supporting our providers' success is critical to supporting our children's future success.
Let's Grow Kids and our sister organization, Vermont Birth to Five, are in close conversation with the Department of Children and Families Child Development Division. We understand CDD is working on a plan to provide training on the updated regulations so they can address providers' questions and respond to any concerns. We also recognize many providers will need mentoring and financial support to implement the updated regulations successfully.
Ultimately, this will require increased investment in Vermont's early childhood system. This is an investment that — as a state — Vermont can't afford not to make. Right now, 40 to 50 percent of Vermont's children are entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. Research shows that the biggest return on investment in a person's lifetime comes when society invests in the first few years, reducing future costs in the public education, health care, and corrections systems.
Child care providers work incredibly hard to provide Vermont's children with nurturing and caring environments while their parents are working. The important work they do benefits us all: Access to high-quality child care allows parents to keep working, knowing their children are in a safe and nurturing environment; employers benefit from a more stable workforce, helping our economy thrive; and, most importantly, young children get the strong foundation they need for future success in relationships, in school and in life.
Our hope is the state will recognize that providers need financial support in order to increase program standards and meet updated child care regulations. The state has already identified Vermont's child care challenge as a priority by setting up the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care. The Commission is holding public forums on July 25 and July 26 to hear from Vermonters on this issue and will deliver a report to the Legislature and governor this November.
Vermont's future prosperity depends upon increasing access to high-quality, affordable child care for all families who need it.
Robyn Freedner-Maguire is campaign director for Let's Grow Kids. For more information contact Let's Grow Kids Communications Manager Nicole Haley at 802-391-0545 or firstname.lastname@example.org.