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Connecticut’s child care system is in crisis. Lamont's blue ribbon panel could help overhaul it

Rebecca Mickelson, who teaches art at an early childhood school in New Haven, holds a sign in support of students and teachers during a march through the streets of New Haven. Protesters called for more funding for public schools across the state, which they say are facing dire staffing shortages.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Rebecca Mickelson, who teaches art at an early childhood school in New Haven, holds a sign in support of students and teachers during a march through the streets of New Haven. Protesters called for more funding for public schools across the state, which they say are facing dire staffing shortages.

After the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the strains on an understaffed child care industry in Connecticut, challenging both providers and families in need of care, lawmakers saw something needed to change.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics found the number of child care workers in the state dropped almost a third from 2019 to 2021 compared to the years before the pandemic, from nearly 10,000 workers to under 7,000.

Governor Ned Lamont’s blue ribbon panel on child care met for the first time on Wednesday to begin work on a five-year plan to make child care more accessible, equitable and simplified.

It came together as the result of an executive order by Lamont, who told the panelists he’s looking for their expertise and recommendations on how best to leverage state funding.

“Give us the perspectives we need to help us figure out how we can maximize those dollars and give every one of our kids the best head start in life," Lamont said. "I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again. I want Connecticut to be the most family-friendly state in the country.”

The panel includes parents, child care workers, advocates, lawmakers, business leaders and other experts. Among the biggest hurdles Connecticut has to overcome, according to the panel, are unaffordable options for care, staffing difficulties, and rates of pay for child care workers that don’t reflect the true cost of such labor.

“Our work is really cut out for us,” said Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Beth Bye, the panel’s chair. “These are entrenched, long-term challenges.”

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Bye told the panel. “The governor of the state of Connecticut just stood here and said, ‘I’m counting on you.’ And child care workers across the state are counting on us, and so are families, and children’s brains are counting on us.”

Leaders in the field from other states spoke at the meeting, including Dr. Valora Washington with Massachusetts’ CAYL Institute.

You can consider things like how much your families here in Connecticut want and need early childhood education; how the children, families and communities are reaping enormous benefits here in Connecticut from that; and how it is such an important part of the economic engine that you have here in Connecticut,” Washington said.

The panel plans to submit a final policy proposal in December. Before then, it will conduct at least five public listening sessions.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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