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Child care demand grows

October 6, 2018

STAMFORD — For her job with Thomson Reuters, Julie Fraser travels across the state to train colleagues in legal research. Other days, she works from home.

Either way, the North Stamford mom had at least an hour-long commute for months.

Fraser, 39, is the mother of two boys, ages 2 and 9. In February, her family moved to North Stamford from Springdale. It resulted in Fraser needing an extra hour each morning to drop off her younger son at Building Blocks day care on Camp Avenue and then her older child at Davenport Ridge Elementary School.

“If I have to be in Hartford at 10 a.m. and I have a 45-minute drop-off routine, that means I’m leaving my house at 8 a.m.,” she said. “It’s a juggling act being a working mom. Every minute counts.”

Relief came in September when Fraser enrolled her youngest closer to home in the Italian Center’s new early learning program. Until the Italian Center’s facility reopened last month after a fire, there was no day care facility closer to Fraser’s home.

According to the Center for American Progress, Stamford is a so-called “day care desert,” meaning there are three times as many children than licensed day care slots in an area with more than 50 children under the age of 5.

Stamford has about 125 licensed day care providers, according to the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. Data compiled by the Center for American Progress shows the capacity of these day cares is around 4,200. By comparison, the most recent U.S. Census shows there are about 8,660 children under the age of 5 living in Stamford.

Across Connecticut, 44 percent of residents live in an area without adequate child care, according to the Center of American Progress. More than half of residents in day care deserts have a below-average income and about half are black or Hispanic. In the areas with a shortage, 41 percent of them are white and earn more than the median income.

“When we think about the notion of a day care desert, what we’re really talking about is inequities at the very beginning of children’s lives,” said Wendy Simmons, director of education and equity at the research/advocacy group, Connecticut Voices for Children. “Because of the expense, even in places that have low levels of child care, people with means and resources will always have access and access to the best.”

Day care demand

Ann Lisse Johnson, managing director of the Jewish Community Center’s Sara Walker Nursery School, said the JCC’s Kinderplace Program hired at least five more teachers as enrollment nearly doubled for children ages 1 to 4 this fall.

Johnson said they expanded the program to 80 children to avoid turning parents away and maintaining a wait list that usually had at least three families on it.

“It was a bit of a gut (feeling) based on the calls,” Johnson said. “We have more children enrolled than we ever had. There is a need and we’re trying to meet it.”

Expanding is not always simple. State regulations limit the capacity of children based on their age and the size of the facility. There must be one adult for every four infants and toddlers under the age of 3. The ratio increases to 1 to 10 for children older than 3. In family day cares, there can be up to six children who do not attend school full-time and three school-ages kids.

This makes finding child care for younger children even more challenging.

“By far, the largest gap in child care in the city of Stamford is for infants and toddlers, our youngest children who are undergoing fundamental brain development and need a safe, healthy and nurturing environment,” said David Wilkinson, commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood.

According to a 2016 report from the Office of Early Childhood, there’s a shortage of nearly 2,500 licensed child care spaces for infants and toddlers.

Danielle Celaj, director of Building Blocks, said the Camp Avenue facility recently increased its capacity by eight slots by adding another infant/toddler room.

To add the new room, Celaj said Building Blocks needed approval from the building department, fire marshal, their state representative and state licensing offices. But the expansion is already paying off, considering some parents are calling to reserve spots even before their child is born.

“We had the demand for it,” she said.

Despite the high demand for child care, data from the Connecticut Voices for Children shows more programs are closing in the state than opening. The problem, Simmons said, is the lack of living wage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2017 that the average child care worker in Connecticut made $12.88 an hour, which amounts to less than $27,000 a year.

Simmons said there needs to be more government funding for early child care.

“The ratio is there for quality. Infants and toddlers require a lot of support,” Simmons said. “That’s why most other countries have dealt with this through government subsidies. We’re just a little behind.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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