Finding infant childcare can be difficult journey

ADDISON COUNTY — On Jan. 15, Riley, a healthy six-pound, 10-ounce baby boy was born to Anna and Justin Harrington at Porter Hospital. The two brought their newborn back to their home in Middlebury after an agonizing 50 hours of labor, and were ecstatic to be new parents to the little guy, who Anna lovingly called “amazing and fun.”
Shortly after, an unsettling reality set in: Anna and Justin needed to head back to work, and as the Harringtons quickly realized, finding infant care in Addison County is not an easy task. Recent statistics from a state program called Let’s Grow Kids report that 88 percent of infants needing care in Addison County do not have access to high quality programs.
Anna started reaching out to childcare facilities in February with no luck — every spot was already taken. She even tried a childcare center that was connected to Middlebury College, where Justin works as a chef, to see if Riley could get bumped up on the waiting list. No dice.
Soon, she realized that she wasn’t the only one struggling, and that she was in for a long wait before Riley could claim a place in infant childcare.
For help, Anna consulted Ginny Sinclair, a referral specialist at Mary Johnson Childcare Services, who is specifically in charge of helping parents find placements for their children in the care system.
“It is not an easy thing to find infant care,” Sinclair said gravely.
Finding care for infants (defined as children below age two) can be particularly frustrating because the care is more expensive. State regulations and best practices dictate a one-to-four adult-to-child ratio, which is hard for most care facilities to achieve. Most childcare facilities are more likely to offer care to children ages three and over.
For parents looking to enroll their children just weeks after the childcare search begins, Sinclair suggests preparing for disappointment. Instead, she advises parents to start looking for infant care up to a year ahead of time, and if that’s not possible, parents should find a nanny or family member that can care for the child in the meantime.
She advises parents to put themselves on the waiting lists of every childcare facility that’s realistic for them, and Anna followed suit. In early March, she put her name down on a few lists, and a spot has recently opened up at Vermont Sun, one of the Harringtons’ favored options.
Another challenge in the childcare search is the quality of care. The Harringtons had an idea of what they were looking for before they started the search. Anna knew she wanted to do an in-person visit, and upon meeting the caregiver, she needed to see that he or she was responsible.
“You need to trust them,” she said. “There’s a lot of home daycares that have openings, and people are willing to watch your kid, but that makes me feel really uneasy. I’d prefer an actual facility with some repercussions if something goes wrong. I want some credibility and some responsibility.”
Sinclair says the facility should be clean and safe.
“Honestly, beyond that, it’s such a personal thing, it’s about where you would feel comfortable leaving your child,” she said.
Let’s Grow Kids started an accreditation program called STARS (STep Ahead Recognition System) to help parents recognize trusted facilities. A childcare program can receive between one and fives stars, and a quality program receives four or five.
STARS recognizes programs with “consistent, nurturing caregivers who are educated in early childhood learning and development.” Facilities earning four or five stars also have a “clean, cheerful environment with an outdoor space,” according to the Let’s Grow Kids website.
Parents can search for accredited childcare programs according to town, age categories, number of stars and more at the Bright Futures website, www.brightfutures.dcf.state.vt.us. This is a site set up by the Vermont Department for Children and Families to provide childcare information.
Sinclair says that for parents, it’s all about identifying priorities and creating a healthy relationship with the caregiver. 
“You really need to know what’s important to you,” she said.

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