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New day care aims to ease shortage in Stamford

January 11, 2019

STAMFORD — When Sunrise Child Development Center popped up on Hoyt Street last year, it was some relief in the so-called desert.

“Desert” might not be the first word that comes to mind when describing Stamford. But it’s how the Center for American Progress has classified its day care coverage during at least the last two years.

New data from the Center for American Progress shows Stamford remains a day care desert, meaning there are three times more children than there are licensed day care slots in an area with more than 50 children under the age of five.

Census data gathered by the Center for American Progress shows Stamford has about 8,386 children under the age of five, but nearly half the capacity in day care slots with about 4,089 across the city. And this doesn’t account for slots that are actually open.

Numbers from 2017 show capacity dropped in the last year. Earlier numbers showed a day care capacity of 4,200. The number of children under five in the city has dipped from 8,660.

According to the United Way of Connecticut, 430 referrals were given for infant and toddler care in Stamford and 126 for preschoolers from September to December 2018 through 2-1-1 Child Care, a statewide resource and referral agency they administer.

On the flip side, they reported only about 14 percent of city child care centers had available spots for infants. Even fewer — 7 percent — had room for toddlers. Family day cares had 31 percent availability rates for infants and 37 percent for preschoolers.

While most of the shortage in Stamford remains north of the Merritt Parkway, some downtown neighborhoods are affected.

Alex Jung, director of Sunrise Child Development Center, said part of the appeal of her day care center — located off Washington Boulevard — was its proximity to transportation hubs for working parents, even those who live farther away from downtown.

“I like the location because it’s close to 95, which has access to whatever towns the parents has to go to for work,” Jung said. “It’s also close to the train station. We are about two miles from the Merritt Parkway...Fifty percent of the families work in the city, but I also have families that work in Greenwich, Norwalk. It’s the access to the place. It’s very easy to get in here and leave. They can be in the train station in five minutes.”

Jung decided to open her own day care center after UBS closed its facility — where she had been the director — for children of employees in 2016.

Jung, 52, has more than 30 years of experience in child care and education, including a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a decade of teaching first grade under her belt.

“Parents asked me, ‘why don’t you open a child care (center)?’” Jung said. “I said that’s my goal, but not yet. But a lot of parents didn’t have a plan B. When the time came, they didn’t know what to do with the children…it was the trust. UBS was like a big family because all the employees used to work at the same place. It was difficult for them to find a trusted place.”

She and her husband, Mickey, rebuilt most of the former building and last month opened the day care center, which can accommodate up to 37 children. They still have openings for toddlers and 10 open slots for infants, a rarity considering the strict state guidelines about how many children under three can be in a center.

“Any day care might have preschool programs, but not infants,” Mickey Jung said. “It’s easy to open a day care for preschoolers, but not infants. The requirements are much more.”

It took the Jungs more than a year to receive permissions from the city to build a day care center, reconstruct the facility and get approval and proper licensing from the state. During that time, many UBS parents had to hire au pairs and babysitters, turn to family or even take time off from work to find the proper child care or centers that fit their hours. Alex Jung said she’s open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and doesn’t charge for night hours to accommodate commuter parents. Many UBS parents have since enrolled their children at Sunrise.

Jung warns the journey to opening a child care center may not be as simple as people think. In addition to properly equipping the building, she’s still searching for certified staff with child development associate credentials and at least one year of day care experience.

“You can’t have anybody in the room,” said Jung, who has five employees who care for children and guide older ones through a loosely structured curriculum. “The people need to have experience. They need to have a lot of training to feed the children, change them. It sounds easy, but it’s not. You have to do it the right way...You can feed the child the wrong breast milk. When people talk about child care, they don’t think about all those things that are very important details.”

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

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