HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) — Ginny Bridle has been running the Village Preschool in Hampton for 26 years. After more than two decades in the child-care business, Bridle sees things getting worse for parents seeking high-quality care and day-care directors trying to make ends meet.
“There is a child-care crisis in southern New Hampshire,” said Bridle, who is also a Hampton School Board member. “We’ve had four centers close in Hampton in the last two years and there’s not been one that opened.”
Smaller centers struggle financially because “the overhead costs are hard for a small center to meet and they can’t compete with larger centers that can accept more children and charge higher fees,” she said.
The Village Preschool is a nonprofit that focuses on providing good quality care to parents at an affordable price, Bridle said.
“Our costs run between $185 to $195 a week but bigger centers charge $275 to $300 a week or more, especially for infant care,” she said.
Centers struggle to attract workers and retain them, Bridle said.
“When child-care workers make between $9 and $12 an hour, they are leaving for jobs in public schools or jobs with benefits like health insurance and help with schooling, which most centers cannot afford,” she said. “Therefore, child-care workers are hard to find. Without childcare, workers cannot work so this is a very real issue.”
Child-care workers around the Seacoast typically make $9 to $10 an hour when they start, even though they can’t work with children without at least having some college credits, Bridle said.
“I myself have been looking for an afternoon person for two years without any luck,” she said. “I’m fortunate that two of us at the center have been together 25 years, but you’ve got to have a passion for the work.”
Shannon Tremblay is director of the Little Blessings Child Care Center in Portsmouth.
She began noticing as far back as five years ago what she describes as a steady decline in the amount of workers getting into the field.
“Centers are closing because they can’t hire qualified staff,” Tremblay said.
Asked why that’s the case, she said, “No one wants to get into a field where you make no money and no one wants to work for no money in a high-stress job.”
In addition, “no one really takes us seriously,” she said.
“We’re not babysitters,” Tremblay said. “We have curriculums that we teach and people don’t get that sometimes.”
Like other centers around the Seacoast, the Little Blessings Child Care Center gets calls every day from parents desperately seeking open spots, Tremblay said.
“I have to tell people we don’t have anything for a year and a half and we have an active waitlist for infants that has 25-plus people,” she said.
Tremblay acknowledged the Legislature formed a study committee to look into the issue, but stated “we’re above and beyond doing investigations, we have a real problem now.”
She hopes companies will start working to address the issue because their businesses depend on it.
“These big companies that are building on Pease and planning to bring in 300 new employees, they’re not going to have anywhere for their employees’ children to go if they don’t contribute to solving the problem,” she said.
Little Blessings is also a nonprofit and actively fundraises for the center.
“For a larger company to say we’ll give you X amount of money in order to retain teachers at your day care, that’s what it’s going to take,” Tremblay said.
Rye resident Lindsay Gray and her husband got their son on three waitlists in the summer of 2018, half a year before he was born in January 2019. Two of the centers told the couple they’d have a spot for him in June 2019, and they choose the center they wanted.
But when she called the center in May 2019, “they told me they didn’t have a spot for him.”
“I was just freaking out because we hadn’t been thinking about child care because we were on the wait list,” Gray said this week. “I didn’t realize they could just say we don’t have a spot for you. I was so naïve.”
She recalled sitting in the pumping room at work during her breaks “calling day-care centers.”
“I was panicked thinking what I am going to do with my child,” she said.
The couple was fortunate that they were able to hire a nanny part-time and their parents live close enough to them to help provide care.
They ended up finding a spot for their son in September at a Dover day care.
“I was just so happy that he was around other babies because he was craving that socialization,” she said. “I dropped him off on his first day and I was smiling.”
State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, calls the lack of child-care options on the Seacoast “a huge problem.”
“I really found out how bad it was when I was canvassing and going door to door,” he said. “I ended up talking to a grandparent who was taking care of the kids because the parents couldn’t afford day-care.”
The problem is exacerbated by how little many day-care workers make, he said.
“You have these crises, whether in health care or day care, where you can make more money working at Walmart than you can taking care of our children,” Sherman said.
He likes the idea of having companies provide day care to their employees as one of an “assortment of perks that any company can offer.”
“Number one you get the parent there at work and the parent can still interact with the child during the day,” Sherman said. “My mother was a child therapist and that is a real win-win in terms of early childhood development.”
He acknowledges it’s likely either the federal or state governments would have to at least provide “some kind of financial incentive” to encourage companies to provide or help pay for day care.
Margaret Joyce, president of the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the lack of day care on the Seacoast “is an economic development issue.”
“We have to have a strong workforce and to do that people need to come to work every day not worrying about their children,” she said.
But she stressed the issue “is not a new problem.”
“Twenty-five years ago when I was expecting my first child we were trying to figure out what to do,” Joyce said.
She acknowledged “there’s no easy solutions but it’s something we have to be conscious of and work on.”