BRATTLEBORO—A group that for 30 years has helped parents find the child care they need now is now itself running a program that addresses the needs of those working late afternoons into the night hours.
On New Year’s Day, the CABA (Community Action Brattleboro Area) Evening Care program become the first direct administered care program of the Windham Child Care Association (WCCA).
Now known as the Windham Evening Child Care Program, it provides “a great opportunity for those parents who work the second shift, and [for whom] child care is a real issue,” said WCCA Board Chair Jim Maland.
Maland said the board and staff unanimously support the Evening Care program joining WCCA, with a 30-year history as a child care resource and referral agency for parents and providers.
“I’m excited,” he said.
A niche program
“Early childhood education is so vitally important. Give these kids a good start, and chances are there will be fewer problems down the line,” said Evening Care Director Carol Ames.
The Evening Care program provides child care for parents working second shift. Traditional care programs operate 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., leaving second-shift workers scrambling.
A single mother who quit a good second-shift job because she couldn’t find adequate child care inspired former CABA Executive Director Patrick Moreland to develop the Evening Care program, said Ames.
The program, housed in the Canal Street School, opened in 2005.
In the basement play area called the Big Room, as six boisterous children burn off afternoon steam, Ames talks about the transition from CABA to WCCA.
“Playing in the big room helps children practice their gross motor skills,” explains Ames, over the children’s laughter.
Keeping the program financially sustainable was the big impetus behind CABA approaching WCCA last year to join forces. Last March, the two agencies agreed to start with a pilot to see if the relationship was sustainable. The partnership became official on Jan. 1.
“This way, both organizations could support each other and become greater than the sum of their parts,” Ames said.
The Evening Care program receives the bulk of its funding through the state child care subsidy system, said Ames — a volatile source of income. At one time, the state compensated providers based on how many children the program could have rather than how many were actually enrolled.
Child care has a lot of turnover as children attend programs, transition out, or parents’ schedules change. Second-shift workers’ schedules change often, said Ames. The state’s funding method stabilized finances for providers, but the 2008 credit crunch did away with the state’s compensation method.
According to WCCA Interim Executive Director Elizabeth Raposa, child care can cost a family between $225 and $250 a week. Through its subsidy program, the state pays a percentage of costs, between 10 and 100 percent.
The evening program takes children from 6 weeks old up to age 8.
In a small dining room across from the Big Room, the kids eat together, family style. The program provides two snacks and a full supper and participates in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the same program that provides school lunches, said Ames.
Cook Derek Lafayette does double duty, loading the dishwasher with toys to sanitize them.
Lafayette said introducing new foods to the kids can “be a little risky,” but he tries.
Salads are never a big hit, he said. Sometimes, however, the kids surprise him, as they did when they liked a spicy chicken dish he makes.
Ames points out the designated sleeping areas in the Infant and Toddler Room, for children 6 weeks to 3 years old, and the Multi-Age Room, for those between 3 and 8 years old.
Maintaining routines like mealtime, socialization, story time, bedtime hygiene, and sleep schedule are important for children’s well-being and development, she said.
The Windham Evening Child Care Program staff also help the children in their charge learn pre-reading and math skills. Ames said they also assist with developmental screenings.
“Each child is so unique and different. It’s important to honor each child’s path,” said Ames.
“We have a really nice group of kids here,” said Joslyn Homberg, assistant director and head teacher for the Infant and Toddler Room.
Homberg enjoys working with families and helping them to support their children at home. She said the program serves as a resource for families, whether or not they have a support network.
A sigh of relief
“I’m so happy with the care. It’s just so great they have that [program] for second-shift parents,” said Melody Mason, whose son Maddox started at Evening Care last October.
Mason, a single mother, works three nights as a second-shift admissions coordinator at the Brattleboro Retreat. She said thanks to the Evening Care program, this is the first full-time position she’s been able to take since Maddox’s birth three years ago.
The program has maintained Maddox’s evening routine so that he sleeps fine at the program or at home.
“That has really saved me,” she said.
She said they both made adjustments when Maddox began the program. She had to eliminate his 2 p.m. nap and learn how to bring him home without waking him up.
But those adjustments were minor inconveniences in contrast to the huge weight the program takes off her back. Mason said knowing her son is in a safe place with licensed staff focused on his well-being and learning type makes bringing home a second shift paycheck possible.
Maland said managing the Windham Evening Child Care program will mean more responsibility for WCCA, but the two programs are a good fit. He also said WCCA might be open to managing other programs, but only time will tell.
Changes in the system
Under the Douglas administration, the state pushed hard to centralize the administration and delivery of social services.
WCCA — which offers specialists to help parents find financial assistance, fill out paperwork, and find providers — could potentially lose out if that strategy continues.
According to Raposa, in February, the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, a federal program administered through the state Department for Children and Families in the Agency of Human Services, will move to Waterbury.
The Shumlin administration is investigating whether to centralize the referral process next year, a proposal that Maland characterized as “unconscionable.”
Raposa said WCCA specialists build personal connections with parents and walk them “step-by-step” through finding and paying for child care.
“When you centralize, that [connection] is no longer available to families,” she said.
WCCA will continue to have a specialist to help families through the financial assistance program, said Raposa.
According to Maland, Gov. Peter Shumlin has been supportive and understanding about the importance of keeping support for families at a local level. But only time will tell how the system shakes out, she said.
“I’m hoping centralization does not got to the extreme,” said Ames.
Ames would like to see support remain local because the child-care system “is a maze” for parents, she said, adding that the CABA organization will continue to operate on its own.
Raposa said the Windham Evening Child Care program is open to applications from all families, regardless of whether they qualify for the state subsidy.
There is always a waiting list for the Infants and Toddlers program, so parents should contact the program as soon as they think they will want to enroll their infant or toddler, advises Raposa.
Parents with questions may contact Ames at 802-257-4111.