Group wants to ease childcare challenges in Orleans County

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 31 August 2022 at 10:48 am

Survey planned to get feedback to strengthen childcare services and availability

In February, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services announced that funding would be made available to develop new childcare programs in areas of the state without sufficient childcare slots, known as childcare deserts.  They identified most of Orleans County as a childcare desert.

On Aug. 3 the United Way of Orleans County hosted a “listening session”  with representatives from the county, day care providers and interested professionals, to discuss the lack of childcare in Orleans County and develop ideas for strengthening childcare resources.

Rachel Bonsignore, director of Lift-Off Western New York, facilitated the discussion and information sharing session and in an e-mail to all who attended, summarized the challenges and gaps identified by the group and what is going well in Orleans County. She also listed opportunities and a timeline going forward.

A number of factors were identified as challenges and gaps in the childcare system in Orleans County.

Shared information and understanding population trends by age and geography; pre-K expansion plans in schools, full or half day, timelines and wrap care option; changes in how employers do business, such as working from home, hybrid, hours and flex time; and employee childcare needs.

  • Attitudes and beliefs – a perception that early childhood educators are “babysitters,” instead of education professionals who are highly trained, well regulated and offer safe and enriching care; lack of political support and recognition that childcare is an economic development driver and opportunity for Orleans County.
  • Supply of childcare that matches families’ needs, including traditional hours, a lack of providers that operate during evenings, overnights and/or weekends; distribution challenges of registered child care options close to parents’ home or place of employment; getting new providers.
  • Transportation – Limited public transportation options and hours; varied car ownership and related costs (fuel, insurance); ride sharing is limited, particularly for families with young children.
  • Costs – Parent often pay the equivalent of rent or their mortgage for childcare; awareness of the Child Care Subsidy program and parental eligibility; program operating costs, payroll, overhead, etc., infrequently breaks even; impacts on minimum wage increases by centers and GFDE programs.
  • Workforce – Hiring and retaining high quality staff; workforce pipeline, expected retirements; minimum wage and struggle for competitive wages outside of early care and learning field.

Opportunities for improving childcare access and services included developing a targeted employer and parent survey, to include small and large businesses, churches and faith community, Leadership Orleans alumni and partners; and convening a childcare community forum, to include schools, employers, child care providers, government partners, workforce development, schools, libraries, higher education and pediatricians.

Its purpose would be to create a better understanding of how business gets done (onsite, hybrid and work from home) and the unique needs of their workforce and employees with children.

Short-term opportunities (five to eight months) identified are creating an Orleans County Early Childhood Educator of Distinction Award, a county proclamation of April 1 – 8, 2023 as “Week of the Young Child” and planning events and happenings during “Week of the Young Child,” by libraries and church sermons, etc.

Medium-term opportunities (12 months) include a community child-care plan/agreement, created and informed by the community; and improved and continuous communication with schools, employers, the county, Child Care Resource and Referral (services in Orleans County provided by Community Action) and policy makers.

The report has been well received by those in attendance at the “listening session.”  The opportunity to share information and ideas on the topic of childcare in Orleans County strengthened communication among providers and generated many new ideas.

As a starting point, the group endorsed the idea of conducting a survey. Bonsignore suggests a survey should be a collaborative effort between Community Action, Leadership Orleans and United Way. Any others who would be interested in participating are welcome. After the survey goes out, the group will convene again to review the results and invite additional community members to help with a plan to strengthen childcare services and availability in Orleans County.