Chloe Learey: Summer child care challenges

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Everyone is excited about summer! Vacations are scheduled, kids are glad to be out of school, and the warm weather means life gets a little easier. Except if you're working full time and need to find something fun, safe and engaging for your young children to do while you work.

Although many early care and learning programs for infants through preschool continue services for the summer, kindergarten-age children and beyond are left to access options that might be less convenient for families, unaffordable, and end up creating more of a burden. Some of the child care challenges identified in the survey recently done by the Windham County Child Care Counts coalition are amplified in the summer. When families are required to piece together an assortment of options, issues around scheduling and flexibility at work become even more important. For instance, you find a great day camp but it only runs for half the day so you have to figure out transportation and another activity to fill in the day. Or you cannot afford the overnight camp that is available, so you find yourself leaving work early, negotiating with other families to swap kids, finding a neighborhood kid or older sibling to babysit. These are not bad options in and of themselves. But, the challenge of coordinating the logistics and the likelihood that changes can happen that will cause the plan to fall apart means increased stress and possible consequences at work. Lost productivity to turning down promotions to leaving full-time work that has benefits are possible outcomes. The feedback from families who participated in the survey was clear: "challenging", "stressful", "frustrating", "extremely difficult'" were words used repeatedly to describe the impact limited child care availability has. This does not even begin to address the issue of quality. There are some camps and programs families might not feel confident are the best for their child, but it is the only choice they have.

Challenges aside, there are some great programs in our area for families to access, many of which are included in the compilation Youth Services puts together ("Summer Resources for Health Youth and Families" under Publications on the website). Organizations like Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, Boys and Girls Club, Brattleboro Music Center, Brattleboro School of Dance, Creating with Clay, The Grammar School, the Retreat Farm, Green Mountain Camp for Girls, Hilltop Montessori, Kroka, Meeting Waters YMCA, New England Youth Theater, River Gallery School. St. Michael's School, and Vermont Wilderness School offer a range of programs for youth ages 5 to 19.

The challenge of child care is not just an issue for families with children. It impacts all of us who work with and employ people with young children. It weighs on families across the economic spectrum and is a major piece of infrastructure to take into consideration when discussing the economic health of our community. Let's do all we can to keep this important piece of the economic development puzzle part of the on-going conversation.

Chloe Learey is the executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro. She serves on the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council, a governor-appointed body that advises the Administration and Legislature on early childhood care, health and education systems. The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce recently named her Entrepreneur of the Year.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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