County leaders say Lack of child care hurting workforce

MAYVILLE — Workforce development in the county is being impeded by the lack of quality child care.

That is why the Chautauqua County Child Care Workforce Development Initiative has been started, said Beth Starks, Jamestown Community College early childhood education specialist and Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center executive director. Starks spoke to both the Chautauqua County Legislature Human Services and Planning and Economic Development committees about the need for quality child care.

Starks said Wilfred Rosas, Dunkirk mayor, and George Borrello, county executive, has started meeting with businesses to discuss the need for child care. She said there are no licensed child care centers in the city of Dunkirk. She added that a roundtable meeting was held in Dunkirk with more than 35 businesses attending to discuss the issue.

Following the Dunkirk roundtable meeting, she said roundtable meetings were also held in Mayville and Jamestown with around 25 businesses attending. She added foundations and schools have also been involved in the initiative.

“We discovered this is a problem throughout the county,” she said.

Starks said by meeting with businesses they have learned companies are having a difficult time recruiting and retaining employees because of the lack of child care. Through the roundtable meetings five goals were identified to possibly alleviate the problem. The first goal is to increase capacity of the number of slots available for children by incentivizing the starting of new child care centers and in-home licensed providers. The second goal is to explore employer benefits and employee needs through a subsidy or voucher. The third goal is to expand early childhood workforce. The fourth goal is to making an improved child care system sustainable by included both the private and public sector. The fifth goal is to increase the quality and awareness of economic development issues.

One of the aspects of the child care initiative is to start an affordability plan that would provide child care fringe benefits through employers that continues the sliding fee scale available via child care subsides through the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The plan would allow employees to accept raises and more hours to earn more income while still receiving benefits from the state for child care. Starks said a lot of employees will not accept raises or more hours to increase their income because they are worried about losing the funding they receive from the state for child care.

A consolidated funding application to receive funding through the state Regional Economic Development Council program has been submitted.

Starks said Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now calling on each of the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils to consider child care needs when it comes to workforce development.

Starks said they are not asking the Chautauqua County Legislature for anything, but want county officials to consider child care needs when making future decisions.