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Columbia County faces child care crisis


(The first of a new series)

GHENT—New York State classifies Columbia County as a “child care desert.” In practice that means the futures of children and their parents are stunted by the lack of available and affordable care.

Denise Bell is a first-time mother. She had to leave a job she loved, as a medical receptionist at Columbia Memorial Health, after her daughter Aurora was born. Aurora’s godmother had been caring for Aurora, but when she returned to college, Ms. Bell and her husband could not find a spot in daycare. So, she left work at Columbia Memorial—which, like most health care facilities, has staffing shortages—and, found part-time work that she can do from home.

Now, Ms. Bell says, the lack of daycare is “shaping my whole life.” Aurora is on the wait list at several centers, but Ms. Bell feels that “unless you work in daycare, your child doesn’t have a chance to get in.”

Actually, not even day care workers can find care for their children.

Aisha Hart works for Child Care Connections, a program of Family of Woodstock, Inc. (Family) that links parents to licensed and registered child care programs in Columbia and Greene counties. She is due to deliver her first child in April and started looking for a daycare slot back in November in the hope of being able to continue to work after the baby arrives. She is on several wait lists, but fears that even if a slot opens up (and she does not expect one for at least one year) her family may be not able to pay for it because “unless you can afford a second mortgage or two rents, you can’t afford daycare.”

In Columbia County, child care typically costs $180 – $300/week according to Ms. Hart. In other words, in a year it can cost up to two times more than the annual tuition at a New York State public university and nearly as much as is considered an affordable rent.

Subsidies are available, based on a family’s income and number of children, but, ironically, many two-working-parent households, like Ms. Hart’s family, make too much to qualify for assistance. The result is that one parent needs to stop work to care for the child, in turn straining family finances and jeopardizing career advancement.

Ms. Hart’s colleague at Child Care Connections, Teresa Lewis, now has a three-year old boy. She planned to start law school in 2019, but when she found she was pregnant, she and her husband agreed they could not afford to pay for daycare, even if she could find it, so that Ms. Lewis could return to school. Ms. Lewis has deferred her dream of law school.

Sheleen Frank has three children. Two are school age but her son Navir is a toddler at nearly 3. Ms. Frank had worked for five years as a medical assistant in Hudson. Recently, she and her husband, who has his own business, agreed that she needed to resign because her sister, who had been caring for Navir, found a full time job. Ms. Frank applied to numerous programs but could find no full-time day care slot for Navir.

‘Ninety percent of the adult brain capacity has developed by the time a child reaches five.’

Linda McGriff, director

Education and Youth Development

Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood

Currently, Navir attends a program at Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood (GHPN), which offers pre-school age early literacy services for several hours on three days per week.

Linda McGriff, who runs that program, is the director of Education and Youth Development for GHPN. Ms. McGriff is an educator by background. Unlike her seven siblings, she attended day care as a child growing up in Hudson, and she credits that attendance with the fact that she is the only one in her family to have graduated from college.

When she returned to Hudson to work at GHPN Ms. McGriff could not find care for her three children. She earned just a shade too much to qualify for Head Start, was on the wait list for several programs, but could not afford the fees for all of her children anyway. Until her children were school age she relied on her mother for help.

The situation was not ideal as her mother, at an advanced age, was not able to provide what young children need most—socialization with other children and a variety of forms of physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation. Ms. McGriff says that “young children’s brains are sponges. Ninety percent of the adult brain capacity has developed by the time a child reaches five. If the brain does not develop because the reading, singing, interacting does not happen, a child is unlikely ever to catch up.”

“Without access to structured settings,” confirms Joan Hunt, executive director of GHPN, “children start school already behind academically, socially and emotionally. They are playing catch-up from the start.”

Ms. G (who asked to have her name withheld) who attends the GHPN program with her infant son, cites other needs that go unmet when day care is unavailable. When she stays at home caring for her son all day, she becomes isolated; like her son, she lacks social interaction. In contrast, she feels calm and supported by the other parents she sees at GHPN. The logistical challenges of shopping and daily chores are also eased when she can leave her son in trusted care.

With daycare unavailable and its cost in any event unaffordable, will the county lose its younger working families? Upcoming articles will survey the day care landscape in the county more specifically and look at the causes of the drought and state and local efforts to address it.

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