Family child care providers step up when schools close

Back • Publication Date: November 27, 2021 • Education & Employment

BRIDGEPORT — When more kids showed up at Norma Stennett’s home on Wednesday of Thanksgiving break, the family child care provider was willing and able to meet the need.

Stennett owns and operates a home-based daycare in Bridgeport called Scholastic Renaissance, where she looks after four infants and toddlers. But when local schools closed this week for the holiday, she added two school-aged children to her program and restructured it to match the breadth of ages.

And though she had planned on a 1:30 p.m. dismissal, some parents had to work full shifts at their jobs. Stennett, who insisted that she is a parent before a provider, said she did what was necessary to accommodate them: She closed up shop nearly five hours later.

This week was not the first time Stennett had to work, and work harder, while other educational facilities were periodically shuttered over the last 20 months.

“It was not so much of a hard transition for me because I learned from the pandemic,” Stennett said.

As COVID-19 spread, Stennett worked in person throughout spring 2020 while most child care centers and public schools closed. Like this holiday week but multiplied, she added school-aged children to her roster of infants and toddlers — more students to care for with unique sets of needs. At the height of school closures, Stennett looked after nine kids and required additional staff.

“She has gone above and beyond many times to accommodate her families when schools or centers would be closed, particularly during the pandemic,” said Wende Gozan Brown, the director of communications at All Our Kin, an organization that helps license, train and support family child care educators, including Stennett.

As the months passed, Stennett learned to juggle students of all ages at one time. She also had to make quick decisions and costly changes to her program, like temperature checks at the door. Stennett had an awning installed, so families waiting to be screened could shelter, and invested in an outdoor sink for pre-entrance hand washing. She purchased a picnic table for learning outside, bought noise-canceling headphones, and extended her Wi-Fi to support herself, her student in remote classes and two college-aged sons learning from home.

“I’m still paying off credit cards,” Stennett said, almost two years later.

A 2020 report from Connecticut Voices for Children showed that many family child care providers make far below minimum wage at $6.10 per hour. The families of child care workers are also more than twice as likely to live in poverty than other Connecticut families — 11.8 percent versus 5.8 percent, Hearst Connecticut previously reported.

And still, the price tag for their services can give many Connecticut families sticker shock, amounting to an average of $11,440 per year, according to the Connecticut Voices for Children report. The state also has the fifth-most expensive child care system in the nation that even state assistance fails to cover the true cost of high-quality early education, researchers say.

Providers and their advocates are hopeful that President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, could start to address those disparities. The agenda includes an expansion of the child tax credit, as well as federal subsidies based on state median incomes and family size. As it stands, parents must be in school, working, job hunting or facing health concerns to qualify, and the program would expire in 2027.

Jessica Sager, the co-founder and CEO of All Our Kin, said the legislation would expand child care and pre-K to 70,000 additional Connecticut children, reduce fees for low-income families, and improve salaries and professional development.

“The bill is a massive step forward toward investing in a child care system that actually meets the needs of all families,” said Sager, “and recognizes without child care, parents cannot work and children will not receive the education they deserve.”

The bill has moved into the hands of the Senate, with Democrats aiming to pass it by Christmas, according to the Associated Press.

Sager said the historic investment in family child care is happening at the state level too, with Connecticut broadening its focus from center-based care for 3 to 4 year olds, to a mixed delivery system of various settings that provide high-quality early education.

“A lot of people misconstrue that a family child care provider is a babysitter,” Stennett said. “Family child care providers, we’re educators.”

“I wouldn’t want to do anything else but what I’m doing now,” she said.

Authors: Cayla Bamberger •  Source: CT Post • View