West Hartford parents followed the proper procedure for securing child care for their incoming kindergartner this fall, but found themselves on a waiting list with many others due to the scarcity of spots.
By Amanda Madore
Seven years ago, my husband and I purchased our first home. We chose to make roots here in West Hartford, due largely in part due to the strong reputation of the public school system. Knowing we would soon start a family, we wanted to raise our children in a safe, welcoming and diverse community, and in a place where we knew they would receive a best-in-class public education.
Despite the rising taxes each year and high cost of living, we have decided to stay in West Hartford, and still reside in the home we purchased in 2016. We are thrilled that our oldest child will soon enter Kindergarten at Duffy, beginning a new milestone for our family and for us as West Hartford residents.
As is the case with many other West Hartford families, both my husband and I work full time and knew that we would need supplemental childcare once our son entered the public school system. Gone are the days of 8 a.m. drop offs and 5 p.m. pickups at our daycare center. Our new reality means that once school dismisses in mid-afternoon, we would need childcare support until our workdays were complete several hours later.
I began my research late last year in anticipation of my son starting school in the fall of 2023. I quickly learned of the Kidslink program, run by the YWCA of Hartford, which is the only official aftercare partner of Duffy. I was relieved to know the aftercare program was on site at the school and that we would be able to send our son to the program knowing he would be safe and well looked after for a few hours each afternoon. I began contacting the program early this year, ensuring that my family had all the information needed to secure a spot when the time came.
Kidslink used an online registration for the first time this year, hoping to streamline the process for families. Unfortunately, the link to register never went live as planned at midnight on Monday, May 1, and myself and dozens of other working parents who waited up all night were left with no answers and no opportunity to register for what we told were limited, first come, first serve spots.
The link finally went live without notice around 10 a.m. the following morning. Once we were finally able to enter the portal, we were dismayed to find that all options at Duffy were already full; all the available spots had been claimed by returning families who received a priority registration window. Those that were waiting until May 1 to register as new incoming Kindergarten families were never notified that the spots were already taken.
We, along with every other incoming Kindergarten family, found ourselves waitlisted. I was lucky enough to happen to be online and checking when the link did go live, and was informed that my son was No. 3 on the waitlist. Other families, who did not know the link went live at 10 a.m., found themselves as low as 40 or 50, essentially meaning there was no chance their child would secure a spot.
I found myself deeply upset by the many issues we faced with registration, and frustrated and stressed about how we would secure after school childcare coverage. I posted in every local babysitter group, looking for part time sitter and nannies, but found that dozens of other families were looking for the same. I also posted in public West Hartford forums, seeking other parents who faced the same issues as us.
I began communicating with several area parents, some of whom I knew but many of whom were strangers. After discussing our concerns and frustrations, we decided to attend the next West Hartford Board of Education meeting, bringing our concerns to their attention. We wanted to ensure they were aware of the issue with their official aftercare partner. Our group gathered data outlining how many students each elementary school aftercare program was licensed for, and how many students could actually enroll with the number of staff the programs currently employed. We identified a huge gap, with some schools, such as Duffy, licensed for upwards of 30% more than the program was enrolling. (Duffy is licensed for 95 students, but staffed for just 60.)
Many, if not most, West Hartford families are made up of dual parent working households, and we feel strongly that there is not enough support within our community for these families. We spoke at the BOE meeting on May 16, making them aware of the major issues and challenges faced and asking for their support in ensuring the official aftercare partners are the right ones. We asked questions such as;
- Who is responsible for the contract with Kidslink?
- Is a regular audit held to understand the gap between the demand and the current capacity?
- Why are there no other official aftercare partners?
- How can the BOE help Kidslink better address their staffing issues?
- How can the BOE and Town of West Hartford offer more support to parents? Can there be partnerships in place to provide buses to third party after care programs (i.e., the JCC, which offers aftercare but not a bus from Duffy, for example)?
As is protocol, the BOE was not able to respond to us verbally at the meeting. We followed up in the weeks to come with several emails and did receive a response from BOE Chairperson, Dr. Thomas-Farquharson. Unfortunately, the BOE has advised that responsibility sits with the town, though the town informed us of the opposite when we made our first inquiry to them in early May. While Dr. Thomas-Farquharson sympathized with and acknowledged our struggles, she noted that there was simply not much the BOE or the town was able to do to support our families and our need for afterschool care. Noting that the demand was greater than the supply (in this case staff), they essentially told us we were on our own. The town simply “rents” the space to Kidslink, and then takes no responsibility or oversight into how the programs are run, how families are enrolled, or how these programs staff to meet the demand.
In speaking with many other families in both surrounding communities and other communities across the state and the country, we know that it does not have to be this hard. We know there are solutions that can be found if our elected officials, both at the town and BOE level, put resources behind the problem.
We want nothing more than to raise our children here in West Hartford, but we are left feeling that the town does not care enough to keep current families here. With rising taxes, mill rates and the overall cost of living, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for families who have lived in the town for years, and even decades, to remain doing so, especially if there is no support offered to dual parent working household. Instead, we are left to figure it out on our own, hoping by some miracle we can find a solution.
Despite being No. 3 on the list since May 1, we find ourselves still in the same position on July 27, meaning not one additional staff member has been hired for the program.
We know that aftercare access is only one challenge that families in this town face. However, we urge our elected officials to listen to their constituents and put action where action is needed. We want nothing more than their help and support, in the hopes that our families and many other families like ours can continue to raise our children here.
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