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Officials: Child care options shrinking in North Country care

PLATTSBURGH — The dearth of childcare options are leaving many parents and their children out in the cold.

Presently, there are approximately 4,400 licensed slots in about 210 programs in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

“In the past 12 months, we have lost 542 slots, so that means programs have closed,” Jamie L. Basiliere, executive director of the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, said.

“Some of this is related to COVID, but the vast majority is not. The problem is that parents cannot truly afford the true cost of childcare, and so programs are going out of business.

“Those that haven’t, many of them are on a slippery slope to go out of business because they can’t make ends meet.”

Shortage of providers

This impact is greater with childcare centers more than family childcare homes.

“The problem with family childcare homes is that the provider population is aging, and providers, many, are getting ready to retire,” Basiliere said.

“We do not have a strong pipeline of new programs coming to be.”

One reason for this dilemma is that it is increasingly difficult to get a program licensed.

“There is a lot of red tape and there are a lot of fire, safety and health requirements,” she said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed child care in his recent NY FY 2022 Executive Budget briefing.

Cuomo has proposed $6 million for startup grants for child care programs located in child care deserts.

“It is important to first make the existing child care programs located in child care deserts whole,” Basiliere said.

“Many of these child care centers, school age programs, and family child care homes are struggling making ends meet because parent tuition does not cover all the operating costs. So, before starting up new programs, let’s support the existing ones.”

COVID relief

The Child Care Coordinating Council has been administering close to $600,000 to $700,000 worth of CARES Project for childcare providers and for parents through three projects – CARES I, CARES II and CARES III.

“That’s the federal money for the COVID relief,” Basiliere said.

“We have been helping childcare providers buy cleaning supplies, PPE, toys and art materials that could be used by single children as opposed to shared by the whole group.”

The council has been paying the child care tuition for about 61 families around the region.

“We are fully paying their childcare with CARES money because the parents are essential workers,” she said.

“You have to be at work, not at home, and they are within 300 percent of poverty. So for a family of four, they have to have incomes at or less than about $74,000 a year. This is a big help. We’ve spent so far on that program alone since November about $120,000. We make the payments directly to the childcare providers and programs.”

Basiliere likens the CARES projects to tiny little fingers plugging a dike.

“We are addressing small problems in childcare programs,” she said.

“I’m going to have to do some more research on what the governor is proposing. I know he is addressing childcare and how this plays out, I do not know.”

Child care deserts

The council’s “Child Care Deserts in the North Country: A Region in Crisis” can be accessed online at: www.ccccnc.org .

“We did that report just a little over a year ago,” Basiliere said.

“It is from that report that the Stand Up for Child Care in the Adirondacks campaign has been built on.”

Child daycare centers were doing very poorly before the COVID-19 Pandemic, which made things worse.

“Most of the childcare programs have stayed opened,” Basiliere said.

“They never shutdown in March or any time after. Most, some did like Head Start shut down and Universal Pre-Kindergarten program shut down back in March. Most of our child care homes and centers stayed open. They are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They are getting very little credit for their bravery, grit and determination to keep their doors open for working families.”

Many of these small businesses have lost enrollment because parents are working remote from home.

“Others are small to begin with only seven or eight spots,” she said.

“Some have had outbreaks of COVID in their families and amongst their staff, so they have had to shutdown and quarantine for a couple of weeks.”

These programs were among the first to do daily health checks and enhanced cleaning.

“And taking all of the COVID-19 precautions,” Basiliere said.

“Childcare programs have done it, and they’ve done it without complaint and they have done a fabulous job. Childcare providers and programs have been on the top of their game. They have worked very, very hard to maintain healthy and safe programs for kids and families without a lot of resources.”

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