Home child care providers take action when schools close

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BRIDGEPORT – When more children showed up at Norma Stennett’s home on Thanksgiving Break Wednesday, the home child care provider was willing and able to respond to the need.

Stennett owns and operates a home day care center in Bridgeport called the Scholastic Renaissance, where she cares for four infants and toddlers. But when local schools closed this week for the holidays, she added two school-aged children to her curriculum and restructured it to suit all ages.

And although she had scheduled a layoff at 1:30 p.m., some parents had to work full shifts. Stennett, who insisted she was related before a provider, said she did what was necessary to accommodate them: she closed shop nearly five hours later.

“My parents, they depend on me,” said Stennett, who works an average of about 12 to 15 hours a day. “Many of them are single parents. They don’t have a plan B; they don’t have a backup.

This week was not the first time that Stennett had to work and work harder, as other educational institutions were periodically closed over the past 20 months.

“It wasn’t so much of a difficult transition for me because I learned from the pandemic,” Stennett said.

As COVID-19 spread, Stennett worked in person throughout the spring of 2020 as most daycares and public schools closed. Like that holiday week but multiplied, she added school-aged children to her infant and toddler roster – more students to care for with unique sets of needs. At the height of school closures, Stennett was looking after nine children and needed additional staff.

“She went above and beyond to welcome her families many times when schools or centers were closed, especially during the pandemic,” said Wende Gozan Brown, director of communications at All Our Kin, an organization that helps deliver licenses, train and support home child care educators, including Stennett.

Over the months, Stennett learned to juggle students of all ages at the same time. She also had to make quick decisions and costly changes to her schedule, like door temperature checks. Stennett had a canopy installed so families awaiting screening could shelter and invested in an outdoor sink to wash their hands before entering. She bought a picnic table to learn outdoors, bought noise-canceling headphones and extended her Wi-Fi to support herself, her student in distance classes and her two age sons. academics who learn at home.

“I still pay by credit card,” Stennett said, almost two years later.

A 2020 report from Connecticut Voices for Children showed that many home child care providers earn well below minimum wage at $ 6.10 per hour. Families of child care workers are also more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other families in Connecticut – 11.8% versus 5.8%, Hearst Connecticut reported previously.

And yet the price of their services may come as a shock to many Connecticut families, averaging around $ 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 country, although state aid does not cover the true cost of high-quality preschool education, the researchers say.

Suppliers and their advocates are hopeful that President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, could begin to address these disparities. The agenda includes an expansion of the child tax credit, as well as federal grants based on median state incomes and family size. As it is, parents must be in school, working, looking for a job, or dealing with health issues to be eligible, and the program would expire in 2027.

Jessica Sager, co-founder and CEO of All Our Kin, said the legislation would extend child care and kindergarten to an additional 70,000 Connecticut children, lower fees for low-income families and improve wages and professional development .

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

The bill has passed through 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 as well, with Connecticut expanding its reach from residential care for children aged 3 to 4 to a system of blended delivery of various settings that provide high quality early education.

“A lot of people misinterpret that a home child care provider is a babysitter,” Stennett said. “Babysitters in a family environment, we are educators. “

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

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