Many North Country child care centers at risk of closure without financial help

New York

A July survey by the National Association for the Education of Young People found that 40% of America’s child care centers will close permanently without some form of financial help. However, the coronavirus pandemic is only part of the problem, and the North Country’s picture bears this out.

There are more than four times as many children 12 years old and younger in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties in need of child care as there are slots for them in regulated programs such as licensed day care centers, says the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country.

“Breaking even, in this field, is a very good year,” Rose Blanchard said. “You have to keep your costs as low as possible, and meanwhile, you cannot raise your tuition more than 0.5% to 1% annually to accommodate the needs of families because care is unaffordable for many.”

Blanchard, owner and director of the Lil’ School of the Adirondacks in Saranac Lake, says the pandemic has added to the pre-existing problem. The school is operating at not much more than 50% capacity, leading to a substantial loss of revenue while requirements for quality of care continue to rise — which she says they should.

“However, the pay and incentives have not increased alongside that, so we now have certified teachers that must really love what they’re doing, because they need to work for barely more than minimum wage,” she said.

The Child Care Coordinating Council says many other providers are in the same situation. “Our programs are really suffering, and they might not be able to sustain operations if we aren’t able to invest in this field,” program director Sara Allen Taylor said. “It’s really incredibly necessary.”

Taylor added that child care is, in essence, a form of economic development because many parents cannot work outside the home without it. “While it’s great to say that we’re supportive, we really need the action to be invested behind those words to get funding directly to programs and parents to get the economy really back full-steam, the way it should be,” she said.

The council is asking for federal CARES Act stimulus money to go directly to child care providers. They also want $1.5 million from the New York state budget to help working families in Clinton, Essex and Franklin Counties pay for child care.

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