Local mom struggles to find childcare

ADDISON COUNTY — You might imagine that securing childcare in New York City is especially challenging; after all, this is the world where you need a preschool admissions coach to get your young one into a “Baby Ivy.”
Yet, Michelle Leftheris, a new assistant professor of studio art at Middlebury College who hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., is certain she would have been able to find childcare for her young daughter in the borough, but she has not been able to find it here in Addison County.
“I’ve never seen a problem like this,” Leftheris said. “It doesn’t seem like Middlebury is overrun with children.”
But the numbers in a new report show that the demand for childcare in the county, and across the state, far outpaces the total number of available spaces.
Let’s Grow Kids, an advocacy project of the Permanent Fund of Vermont, released a statewide analysis in February 2018 of the supply and demand of infant and toddler care in the Green Mountain State. In Addison County, the report says, 67 percent of infants and 55 percent of toddlers likely to need care outside the home don’t have access to any regulated facilities, and 87 percent of infants and 70 percent of toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality (4- or 5-star) programs.
Linda January, executive director of Otter Creek Child Center in Middlebury and a member of Addison County Early Childhood Directors Network, said there needs to be a greater investment, on federal and state levels, in financing early childcare.
At the state level, January advocated for officials taking a closer look at eligibility for childcare subsidies, and bringing the subsidies paid up to market rate.
“That would be huge. It would be a game changer,” she said.
“On a local level, we come together and brainstorm about how to deal with capacity issues, but it’s a slow process,” January added.
Many local childcare centers do not have the internal capacity to expand their services. Additionally, running early childcare programs is expensive, and most programs rely on grants and donations. 
“We know the situation is dire, and as a community, we’re trying to ease that pain,” January said.
(Mary Johnson Children’s Center in Middlebury will soon expand to offer infant care, thanks for a rant from Vermont Birth to Five’s “Make Way for Kids” program. Click here to read more.) 
Leftheris interviewed for her job at Middlebury College last summer. At the time she inquired about childcare options for her now two-and-a-half-year-old, and was told, candidly, that it can be difficult to find childcare in the area. Still, she was hopeful that something would work out.
Now, after a full year on every center’s seemingly endless waitlist, Leftheris and her husband are about to hire their second in-home nanny — their last resort.
“It can be tough to find the right person, as it’s only for a few days per week,” Leftheris said about finding an in-home nanny. In fact, Leftheris’ husband, a freelancer, has had to repeatedly adjust his schedule to cover for times when the nanny could not be there.
Their in-home nanny care for last year ended up being two times the cost that they would’ve paid at a local childcare center. On top of that, Leftheris sees her daughter’s time spent outside of a registered childcare center as a missed opportunity for the toddler to socialize with other children her age.
Leftheris has explored many avenues; she has listened to the experts’ advice.
There are in-home daycare centers, but Leftheris says it can be hard to get a lot of information about them, and most of them are at capacity. Then, there are the daycare centers 40-plus minutes away. 
“I walk to work; it would be insane to drive 40 minutes to bring my daughter to daycare,” Leftheris said.
She also pointed out that for those lucky enough to get off waitlists, there is little choice available.
“You’re at the mercy of whoever has an opening,” she said.
When Leftheris and some friends heard of Gov. Phil Scott’s recent announcement of legislation that would pay people up to $10,000 to move to Vermont and work remotely, she said they laughed about it together.
The state is interested in attracting young people, but it is not supporting them at all with access to good childcare, she said.
“I wouldn’t recommend friends with kids to come here,” Leftheris said.
Since Leftheris interviewed at Middlebury a year ago, she has become increasingly less hopeful about her daughter’s childcare situation.
“When I called last year, I took it for granted that we’d get into something. At this point, I’m not hopeful that she’ll get into a center before Pre-K.”

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