Help Wanted: Child care workers

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 6:32 PM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - A lack of daycare and preschool services has been an issue for a long time in Vermont, but the pandemic made the issue worse. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin visited a local preschool to see how they’re handling the staffing shortage and how it is impacting our community.

“It flies by, honestly,” said Kourtney Brisset, describing her typical day as an infant room teacher at Reach For The Stars Childcare and Preschool. “It can be challenging when you have eight kids in a room with two teachers and they’re all crying at the same time.”

The in Essex Junction program -- like many in Vermont -- is short-staffed. “It’s definitely a challenge,” said Lori Henry, who runs the program. “I think families have decided that it’s best for them to stay home, and stay home with kids or drop out of the workforce. And I think, as a result, we have less people to choose from in terms of hiring.”

On top of that, Henry says daycare costs and lack of availability are also why parents are staying home, something Brisset can relate to. “My husband had retired from the Army and we moved back to Vermont. So, I was looking for a job but I also had two kids that were not old enough to be in school,” she said.

Brisset said that was an obstacle when she was looking for work, and she’s not the only one. “Anywhere from three to five phone calls or emails a day from families looking for care,” Henry said. “The problem when people are looking for care is the number of limited spaces. And we have waitlists, all programs do... Without teachers, we aren’t even close to our full capacity.”

Instead of being able to enroll, Henry says they currently are maxed out. With COVID requirements and strict state guidelines for staffing, some programs in Vermont have had to close entirely.

Henry says everyone is searching for qualified staff. Someone who works well and can connect with children as well as their current team. And for those that don’t have the state requirements for education or training? “They can help you do the training. They can help you take the classes. They can help you get the experience you need to be successful in the field,” Brisset said.

She says she had prior experience and found that working for the preschool. She could also get a discount for her kids to attend. There are several positions available in the infant room, toddler room, floater positions, and preschool.

You could say that teaching is in Kaitlyn Henry’s blood. She works for her mom at Reach for the Stars. “My favorite part of the job is definitely all the connections with the kids I get to make. I miss them on the weekends,” Kaitlyn said. She says she wants to break down the stigma many young educators face. “I think a lot of people don’t look at us as very important, and not real teachers. But definitely teaching -- you got to learn the basics to move up to elementary school.”

Being a teacher is hard work, but sometimes you get to have fun and play games, including teaching this reporter how to dance.

And as far as the pay goes… ”It’s not great,” Brissett admitted. “You do it because you love it. It’s not something that you do to make a lot of money.”

“Coming into the field with no experience, I would say the pay would be around $14 to $15 an hour to start. Then, depending on experience and education and qualifications, then it would go up from there,” Henry said.

The job isn’t for everyone, but Megan Henry, the program’s business manager, also has teaching in her DNA. “Being a floater is a great opportunity if you’re interested in working with kids but not quite sure or you’re continuing your education and want to get some experience in the field,” Megan said. “They do laundry, help with dishes, anybody needs anything over the radio. But they also step into classrooms and help out if a teacher is sick. They cover breaks... We have a staff member that went into labor this morning, so you know, things come up.”

Reach for the Stars and other programs are also looking to hire more men on staff, trying to break down any stereotypes about who can and can’t work in child care.

“I definitely don’t see a lot of guys in the field,” said Ryan Rubin, a male teacher on staff. “Plenty for guys to do and set as good role medals. Example -- manners and how to be kind. It really shows a difference, particularly on the younger boys to have a role model in the building.”

Brissett and others we spoke to say many of the benefits of the job are intangible. “You get paid in love and hugs and boogers, kisses,” she said. “It can be challenging at times but it’s definitely also very rewarding.”

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