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On February 25, 2022, Joanne Kelleher, Director of Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington, submitted this testimony to members of the State legislature on SB 2 AN ACT EXPANDING PRESCHOOL AND MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN.
Members of the Children’s and Public Health Committees,
Thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 5001. My name is Joanne Kelleher and I live in Southington. I am the Director of Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington, a non-profit that supports families and early childhood educators in town. Our mission is to ensure that all children are healthy and ready to learn.
The early care and education system in our town and our state is in crisis. These providers are on the front line of mental and behavioral health needs for young children and their families. If the childcare industry fails, then there will be far-ranging health and economic impacts.
This fall, all 11 childcare centers in Southington and 4 of the preschools were desperately looking for staff. Due to health concerns, stress, and low pay (in the $13 to $16 per hour range), early childhood educators are changing careers and leaving the industry. They could be paid more, and receive benefits, by switching to the public schools or working retail. This staff shortage has led to empty classrooms in Southington’s childcare centers and long waiting lists for families. The number of family childcare providers in town has decreased as these small businesses have closed. The increased minimum wage and empty classrooms are putting more financial pressure on childcare centers. One director shared with me yesterday that she was praying for a snow day to get relief from their payroll but that is no way to balance a budget.
Finding an opening for quality childcare here in Southington, especially for infants and toddlers, is very difficult for families. I get contacted every week by people looking for help finding care and so I have been tracking openings on the ECCS website. Families have been unable to return to work for lack of childcare at any cost and those who earn lower incomes have even fewer options. The situation has been bad for years, but the pandemic has made it worse. This bill could help stabilize the situation by increasing the Care4Kids income eligibility and providing funding to early childhood educators to subsidize salaries and benefits.
The pandemic has also increased the mental and behavioral health concerns of children, families and childcare staff in town. A community planning meeting in late 2019 identified the need for mental health services and education related to anxiety, depression, the impact of trauma on brain development, and social emotional learning. In January 2022, the Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington surveyed residents who are raising children age birth to age 12 in town. Of the 350 people who answered this question, over 74% said that there were instances over the last year where they were worried about their child’s mental wellbeing and over 65% said that they believed their child would benefit from counseling services. Unfortunately, parents also report that finding an appointment with a mental health provider is difficult with long wait times.
We need to fix childcare in Connecticut by making high quality childcare affordable and available to every family that needs it while supporting the providers with a fair wage, benefits, and other supports. Children’s behavioral and mental health needs are just one piece of the early care and education services that need to be addressed in the final version of this bill.