The 2019-2020 Session of the Vermont General Assembly adjourned on September 25th, 2020.
By Kellie Campbell, Chair of the Vermont Commission on Women’s Education & Human Development Committee and Hannah Lane, Policy Analyst & Business Manager for the Vermont Commission on Women.
Policy decisions regarding education and child care are gendered. That is a fact that must not be ignored. As public schools in Vermont reopen using a variety of learning models, data signals working women stand to bear the brunt of the impacts. Women experience this from multiple sides: they continue to be primarily responsible for the majority of child-rearing and caregiving, and they make up the vast majority of Vermont’s teachers[i] and child care providers[ii]. Many educators will feel this burden doubly, balancing their careers and the needs of their students with the needs of their own children.
Most of Vermont’s students will learn virtually at least some, if not most, of the time this fall. Many parents must navigate that change while balancing employment, increased family responsibilities, and supporting children’s virtual learning. Women will overwhelmingly be the ones who are forced to pull back from their careers to meet this challenge.
Data from the Census Household Pulse survey, conducted in late April and early May, found that over 80% of U.S. adults who weren’t working because they had to care for their children who were not in school or daycare were women.[iii] Even before the pandemic, mothers were 40% more likely than fathers to report that they had personally felt the negative impact of child care issues on their careers;[iv] 3 times as likely as men to report that at some point they quit a job so that they could care for family;[v] 7 times more likely to cite childcare problems as a reason for working part-time;[vi] and 4 times more likely than men to take time off work when children are sick.[vii] Moreover, women are significantly more likely to be navigating this crisis as single parents; 21% of all children in the United States live only with their mother, compared to 4% living with their father only.[viii]
As policymakers and communities consider how to provide children with care and education during this pandemic, and how to support Vermonters in getting back to work, the need for a strong early childhood care and education infrastructure has become increasingly visible. While Vermont’s child care providers are paid as much as $20,000 less per year than similarly-qualified and deserving individuals teaching in the K-12 system,[ix] they have not been the beneficiaries of the well-deserved and fierce advocacy we’ve seen for public school teachers. Child care providers have been caring for essential workers’ children throughout the pandemic, and most reopened to all children over the summer. Vermont has made additional investments including offering grants to child care businesses, but along with those investments, child care workers are now being asked to carry an even heavier burden by providing care and support to our K-12 students on days they aren’t at school.
A successful plan for the reopening of schools will be one that provides for safe and adequate care and education of Vermont’s children and takes into consideration the needs of educators and working parents. Economic support for families with lost earning potential due to COVID’s impacts must be built in to ensure success. Vermont parents need adequate unemployment benefits, paid family and medical leave, and the ability to take care of their families without losing their income. They need universal health insurance, so when crisis strikes, families and kids don’t lose their health care. They need public benefits like Reach Up, 3SquaresVT, and the Child Care Financial Assistance Program that keep up with inflation and deliver enough aid to meet their families' needs. And they need significant investments in Vermont’s child care system, and in our early childhood educators, to ensure high-quality, affordable early care and learning and after-school opportunities exist so working parents can get back to, and remain, in the workforce.
Women in Vermont need our state to develop and implement a holistic, thoughtful plan designed with pre-existing inequities in mind. It must be designed to work for all of us and ensure that the burden of this pandemic does not continue to rest disproportionately on women. Without this plan, the risk of downward economic spiral not only harms families, but communities and the state’s overall economic recovery and future. Our strong state is resilient, and Vermont will recover from COVID-19, but that only happens successfully if we are looking out for one another. Together, and with fair and equitable policy solutions, we can all recover.
[i] Pache, Tiffany Danitz. “Vermont teachers say they feel ‘attacked’ by policymakers.” VTDigger, 2/7/2018. https://vtdigger.org/2018/02/07/vermont-teachers-survey-fault-policy-mak...
[ii] Change the Story, “2019 Status Report: Women, Work, and Wages in Vermont,” 2019. https://changethestoryvt.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/12/WomenWorkWages2019.pdf
[iii] Grose, Jessica. “They Go to Mommy First.” New York Times, 7/16/2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/parenting/working-moms-coronavirus.html
[iv] [iv] Halpin, John et al. “Affordable Child Care and Early Learning for All Families.” 2018, Center for American Progress. https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2018/09/12074422/ChildCarePolling-report.pdf
[v] Parker, Kim. “Women more than men adjust their careers for family life.” Pew Research Center, 10/2/15. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/01/women-more-than-men-adjust-their-careers-for-family-life/
[vi] Change the Story, “2019 Status Report: Women, Work, and Wages in Vermont,” 2019. https://changethestoryvt.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/12/WomenWorkWages201....
[vii] Kaiser Family Foundation. “Women, Work, and Family Health: Key Findings from the 2017 Kaiser Women’s Health Survey.” https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/women-work-and-family-health-key-findings-from-the-2017-kaiser-womens-health-survey/3/13/2018.
[ix] Horotwitz, Jen. “Stalled at the Start.” Let’s Grow Kids, January 2020. https://www.letsgrowkids.org/client_media/files/pdf/StalledatStart2020.pdf
As families prepare for going back to school, remember the children and youth who are in foster care. While it's a hectic time for everyone, it can be particularly unsettling for children and youth who are not able to return to their birth or adoptive families. The Department for Children and Families seeks Vermonters to step forward and offer foster, kin, or occasional respite care. Explore the process of becoming a licensed foster parent to a child or youth in need by filling out the Foster Care Inquiry Form. Staff at each of the 12 Family Services Division district offices can field inquiries as well.
Barre's New Clothing Closet
By Guest Blogger, Mary L Collins, DCF, Family Services Division
Walk past this historic building in downtown Barre and you might never know that inside lies a bounty of clothing, supplies and toys for children and youth that has been gathered over the past year by Recruitment & Retention Specialist, Alona Tate, for the Barre District Family Services Division of DCF.
With more than 1100 children and youth in foster care throughout Vermont, the needs for clothing, back to school supplies and comfort items is great.
"I reached out to some of our community partners and was delighted to hear from Barre Rotary who helped us to secure this historic space." Tate explained. "Barre Rotary completely renovated the space, including putting in shelving and floor coverings, as well as obtaining supplies and support from Calvin Wilson at Wilson Woodworks for new shelving." She adds, "Rotary does a tremendous amount of “hands on work” within our community!"
The second floor offices have been transformed into a clothing closet with items for all ages. Tate has cleaned, sorted, organized, displayed and then picks items for foster families who have a child in their care who could benefit from additions to their wardrobe.
"I never know what I might receive and so I spend time sorting and organizing and choosing the best items to make it easier for the families and children." Tate packs up totes for every family that expresses a need - whether they're fostering a newborn or a growing teenager. "It's amazing what is donated!" She said. "One local organization makes beautiful quilts and tote bags by the dozens." Tate holds up a calico printed baby quilt to show the craftsmanship and care that goes into each item.
Why a clothing closet?
"We have very little room in our offices to properly sort and store clothing but the needs are there," Tate explained. "This family closet allows us to create a more congenial space for staff and volunteers to work in and for foster families to access what they need in a private, discreet and fun way."
Walking through the two generous rooms, Tate has everything sorted by age and gender identification. She has separated items like totes and back packs, shoes, boots, and baby carriers, bicycles and accessories. She says it helps her to keep things in order and to be ready when the need arises.
"I pack totes so that the families can just come and pick them up." she said. "They don't have a lot of extra time to shop, so this is a way to provide them and the children with great clothing and other needs in an efficient and quick way."
Why the need?
"Sometimes a child is moved very suddenly and there really isn't time to gather their belongings. This makes it a little less stressful on the child and helps the foster care provider be ready when a child comes to them."
Tate further explains that teens are especially vulnerable. "Just because you're sixteen, doesn't mean you want to wear uncool clothes." All sizes from petite to Men's and Women's XX are needed. "We have a lot more baby clothes than we do items for older preteen and teenagers," she explains.
The Family Closet is open by appointment: contact Alona at (802) 585-9861 or Alona.Tate@vermont.gov.
(Montpelier) – Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson has appointed Ashley Messier of Jericho to serve a four-year term on the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), the state’s non-partisan commission working to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls.
Commenting on the appointment, Speaker Johnson said, "Ashley Messier immediately impressed me with her dedication to giving a voice to women, girls, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people impacted by systems of oppression. The Vermont Commission on Women is the only entity in Vermont that expressly considers the broader implications of state policy and budget priorities for women. Ashley's background in combating systemic oppression aligns with the work of the Commission. Her perspective is an important addition as we aim to include more perspectives at the table."
Messier is the executive director of the Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative. The Initiative supports and advocates for women, girls, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people impacted by systems of oppression and is expressly committed to prison abolition. Messier’s years of community organizing, advocacy and direct experience with the criminal legal system inform her passionate and powerful approach to advocacy and abolition. She was previously incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.
Messier also serves as the Vermont Organizer for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. The Council is a network of formerly and currently incarcerated women and girls committed to reimagining communities and creating the shift from a criminal legal system to community-led human justice. Messier served as a consultant and then as lead Organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont’s Smart Justice, a campaign fighting in the legislatures, the courts, in the voting booth, and in the streets to end mass incarceration by addressing sentencing, bail and prosecutorial reform, as well as parole, release and re-entry reforms.
Messier is a member of Vermont’s Human Trafficking Task Force and participates on its Housing sub-committee. Her related work includes an active role in an Act 146 work group exploring using restorative justice in domestic and sexual violence and stalking cases..
(Montpelier) – The Senate Committee on Committees has appointed Sarah Mell of Winooski to serve on the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), the state’s non-partisan commission working to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls.
Mell is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the University of Vermont’s Women and Gender Equity Center, work that explores the intersections of identities, power, and community as a means of advancing dialogue about gender equity and belonging. This position provides training and workshop opportunities for students, staff, and faculty on concepts of positive sexuality, the prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence, and the ways individuals experience power and privilege in relationship to ourselves and others.
Mell has worked not only in a variety of academic settings, but as an independent consultant, and in nonprofit organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and HOPE Works. About joining the Commission at this time, they observed, “If COVID-19 has done anything for our state, I think it has made it clear that our community is both resilient and in need of a new focus on dismantling systems that separate us, and creating connections for us to grow together.” Mell is interested in examining how the Commission might “better represent the needs of all women and girls in Vermont, particularly centering the women who are too often overlooked - those experiencing systemic poverty, state-sanctioned violence, racial discrimination, and transmisogyny.”
Mell holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Vermont and an undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University. Their community service positions include facilitator and volunteer at Outright Vermont and board member, actor, singer, dancer and choreographer for multiple theater production companies, including Vermont Stage Company, Vermont Shakespeare Festival, and Middlebury Actors Workshop. Mell lives in Winooski.