Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Together we can improve childcare

CHERYL MITCHELL IS president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work.

A few weeks ago, our daughter’s show “Hadestown” won 8 Tony Awards, including best musical. In her acceptance speech she called out the huge number of people who have been involved over the years and shared a closing thought that creating a great musical is like creating significant social change:
No one does it alone
It takes time
It is worth it
At dinner with friends this week, we were talking about regrets and failures. I confessed a deep sense of failure that after years of work, we are still at such a crisis point for childcare. By “crisis point” I mean these facts:
•  Caregivers don’t earn enough to enter or stay in this most critical of all professions.
•  Parents can’t afford the current tuition, let alone what it might be if caregivers were properly paid (70 percent of the cost of care comes from parents’ pockets).
•  Lack of appropriate, affordable care is a huge stress for families.
•  Local businesses struggle to attract and retain employees, because of child care concerns.
Then my friend shared a teaching from Thomas Kelley: “Don’t waste time with self-recrimination.” Look squarely at mistakes and failings for what you can learn and then move forward. It reminded me that we have an incredible opportunity in Addison County to get this right, and that it is time to move forward:
•  Our legislators unanimously supported increased public funding for CCFAP (the Child Care Financial Assistance Program) and an expansion of the number of families eligible. 
•  Our local childcare programs have joined together and are moving toward a shared services model. 
•  Our local hospital and physicians are working to better link families with available care. 
•  Building Bright Futures is working to recruit great new caregivers and better support those already in the field.
•  Our business community has begun meeting together to learn from one another and to create new solutions. 
•  The research community, including Middlebury College, is developing a study to help us learn ways to assure all families receive the information and support they need to raise happy, healthy children. 
•  And, finally, we are exploring ways that health care funding can be used preventively to promote the health of children and families and reduce the long term health care costs of family hardship experiences.
When I think about it more positively, this is actually a great time to be living and working in Addison County. A world of possibility is opening up for new ways to work together. We may not win an award as nationally recognized as the Tonys, but we will surely make a huge difference for the families of our youngest children and the economic vitality of our community.
If you would like to be part of this Early Care and Learning Partnership, please let me know by emailing me at [email protected]. Everyone has a skill or experience to contribute. 
Creating a great system to nurture young children and their families is like creating a Tony-winning musical or any significant social change:
No one does it alone
It takes time
It is worth it
Together we can create something stunning.
Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work. She can be reached at [email protected].

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