“When it comes to the health and prosperity of Vermont’s children, families, communities and economy, high-quality, affordable child care is the linchpin.”

That comes from Let’s Grow Kids (LGK), a public awareness campaign advocating for improved quality and access of child care throughout the state. Right now there are just over 18,000 children under the age of three in Vermont, and most of them are likely to need care: More than 70% of Vermont children 6 and under have both parents or guardians in the workforce. A 2018 LGK report found that 77% of infants and toddlers lack access to high-quality care.

CCV alumna Tereka Hand is working on the front lines of the child care challenge. Studying at the College’s Rutland campus, she earned degrees in human services and early childhood education before opening her business, Rekaroo’s Childcare, in 2016. Just two years later, the child care program employs 26 caregivers and supports 70 children whose ages range from 6 weeks to 12 years. “The kids are my everything,” she says, and that’s obvious right away. Hand is young and energetic, with an easy confidence and a contagious smile. She bounces seamlessly from talking statistics with the center’s director to talking homesickness with a three-year-old.

The importance of high-quality early care and learning is clear. Roughly 90% of the human brain develops by the age of five. In the first years of life, the brain makes a million new connections every second; it’s well understood that early experiences have the greatest impact on long-term development and well-being. Good child care is about more than healthy children and families—it also has an impact on society. Let’s Grow Kids states that “investing in children’s development during the early years yields the greatest return, both in savings—in corrections, health care and public education—and in increased productivity when those children reach adulthood.”

That’s why professional development for child care providers is a major focus of CCV’s work. The College offers both an associate degree in early childhood education and a child care certificate, and is launching an accelerated online version of the certificate next spring. In addition, CCV supports the child care workforce as the host of the state’s early childhood professional development system. With funding from the Vermont Department for Children and Families Child Development Division (CDD), Northern Lights at CCV provides comprehensive career development services to roughly 5,000 early childhood and afterschool professionals.

At Rekaroo’s, Hand encourages the professional development of her staff, offering flexible schedules, moral support, and an underlying belief that investing in further education and training ultimately leads to better care. “They’re being treated as professionals now,” she says of caregivers. “They’re being offered a career.”

Northern Lights at CCV director Becky Millard says the child care shortage has a ripple effect. “Without high-quality child care options for families, it means more people are out of work when their children are sick or when their children need anything from them, so there’s a dramatic and immediate impact on the workforce at all times.” On the flip side, so too does encouraging providers to open new facilities. “New child care businesses are good for employers, they’re good for the workforce, they’re good for families, they’re also good for the community…people will want to come and live and raise families if there are really good child care options there.”

For many Rutland families, Hand and her staff are providing a hopeful solution to an ongoing challenge. “I’m really sought after in this area,” she says. “Everyone has been super supportive from the beginning.”

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