State readies plan for regional child care hubs

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BRATTLEBORO — The state is working up plans to allow for the opening of 73 regional child care hubs across Vermont. The hubs are being established so that working parents have a place to send their children until schools can fully open.

On Friday afternoon, Steven Berbeco, the deputy commissioner of the Child Development Division of the Vermont Department of Children and Families, hosted a webinar to talk about those hubs and offer resources for families looking for child care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As we develop policy within the Child Development Division," said Berbeco, "it's very important that we hear from Vermonters about their experiences with child care so that our policy is aligned with your needs."

Berbeco has been hosting the webinars around the state to share resources with employers and families.

These resources include the Community Child Care Support Networks in each county, such as Winston Prouty in Brattleboro and the Sunrise Family Resource Center in Bennington. These resources serve as child care referral networks, said Berbeco.

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"The referral network was essential for our state's response in the springtime when we were matching families of essential personnel with open and available child care," Berbeco said. "The network is now available to all Vermonters at no charge."

Information for parents, employers and child care providers can also be found at Vermont Afterschool, which can be contacted via email at info@vermontafterschool.org. Folks who have questions about child care can also contact Building Bright Futures. Questions to Building Bright Futures can also be submitted online.

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Berbeco said as soon as information is available on the regional hubs, it will be published online and to the media.

Chloe Leary, executive director of Winston Prouty, told the Reformer in an email it's still unclear what the hubs will be and what they will offer.

"We are collecting information about what programs are doing for school age care — including camps, after-school programs, child centers, etc. — and trying to connect the dots through Child Care Resource and Referral so we can let families know what their options are. We do not know demand at this point, and some families do not even know their schedules yet so don't know what they need. It is hard to plan without information."

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Leary hopes Winston Prouty can at least serve as a centralized resource for information about what exists and what the need is and then help fill the gaps either by providing programming or supporting others who will be doing so.

"We are in an interesting position of being a childcare program, an employer with employees who have school-age kids, the regional referral agency, and a landlord with space," she wrote. "Hopefully we can use all that, collaborate with others, and help families and kids get what they need. If that means being a hub we would certainly consider it."

Vermont is also offering a financial assistance program so eligible families can afford high-quality child care for infants, toddlers, pre-k children and and school-age children, Berbeco said.

The Department for Children and Families also offers financial assistance to child care providers, though they have to be licensed with the state or the child care has to be offered by a direct family member.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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