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From the Publisher: Small Children, Big Problem

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Published January 11, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated January 11, 2023 at 10:16 a.m.


Nell Goldstein - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • Nell Goldstein

I don't have kids, but I'm no stranger to childcare. All through middle and high school, I babysat a minimum of two nights a week. One of my regular gigs involved four children, from a baby in diapers to an adolescent slightly younger than me. Apparently, he couldn't be trusted to take care of his siblings, but I was sufficiently responsible, at age 16, to watch over the brood.

I remember the challenge of juggling their myriad wants and needs, of being "on" for hours. I tried to be attentive and playful but also to get them to bed on time. It was, in a word, exhausting. And, for a $1.50 an hour — the going rate for babysitting in 1976 — exploitative.

The pay for professional childcare workers has gone up a bit, but it's still not enough to guarantee its full-time practitioners a decent living, Alison Novak reports in this week's cover story. She found that the median annual income for early childhood assistant teachers is just $22,000. Fast-food workers make more than that. Some early educators with graduate degrees earn so little that they qualify for 3SquaresVT, the government-funded nutrition program also known as food stamps. And most of their jobs don't come with health insurance or paid vacation days.

The pandemic brought additional challenges, and, not surprisingly, many childcare providers left their jobs and haven't returned. In a 2022 survey, nearly 90 percent of early childhood education programs reported staffing shortages. That's driving up the cost of care and preventing some Vermonters from going back to work, because they either can't find anyone to watch their kids or don't earn enough to pay for the service.

Novak talked with one desperate Middlesex father who's called 10 programs in search of an opening for his 3-year-old. He's worried he'll lose his job if he can't find childcare. "I'm literally looking for anything I can get," he said.

Pair that with Vermont's scarcity of affordable housing, and it should be no wonder that young people struggle to move here and put down roots.

Novak explains how Vermont lawmakers are tackling this multifaceted problem in Montpelier. A former teacher with two school-age kids, she’s well versed in the topic.

So is her editor, Sasha Goldstein, one of only two Seven Days employees who currently have young kids. (Both are lucky to have babysitting grandparents nearby.)

Goldstein and art director Diane Sullivan came up with this week's cover concept. None of the photos we'd shot fully conveyed the subject, so they got creative. Sullivan thought of illustrating the story with children's art, and Goldstein recruited his 5-year-old daughter to draw something. He even gave her the headline for inspiration. She produced one draft, then called it quits. So Sullivan switched to plan B — an illustration created by kids at Montpelier's Turtle Island Children's Center — and designed a font to go with it.

The image is colorful, clever and cute, but the question we're asking — "Who Cares?" — couldn't be more serious.