By Lance Reynolds Republican-American
HARTFORD — Naugatuck resident Joshua Vaughn had his hands tied.
After working from home at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the father of three young girls had to return to his job as a receptionist at a local doctor’s office. The office required him to work in-person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., declining his request to work a shorter shift so he could be home earlier for his daughters, now ages 13, 8 and 2.
There were no other options but to resign from the job as his wife had just given birth to their third daughter in March 2020, he said. Vaughn waited six months to start collecting unemployment.
Vaughn has shared his perspective as a father struggling with child care as a member of the state Office of Early Childhood’s 15-person Parent Cabinet, which ensures parental voices shape childhood programs and policies across Connecticut.
Early childhood officials highlighted the cabinet, which formed last fall, during a news conference Thursday at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offices.
Vaughn is now employed with Connecticut Community Care in a hybrid format, working from home most days to care for his younger daughters. He and his wife also have a 9-month-old daughter and are expecting their first son in the summer.
“There’s not enough placement for our children, our babies,” Vaughn said of child-care options in Greater Waterbury. “I have to literally work from home to meet the demand of my child-care needs.”
The Parent Cabinet is helping early childhood officials focus on what supports parents need and how to strengthen existing supports, including Care 4 Kids, which helps low- to moderate-income families pay for child-care costs, and Birth-to-Three, a program for children under 3 with developmental delays.
Nine cabinet members receive such support for their children under age 5. Each of the 15 members serves two-year terms.
Connecticut Children’s Collective, a network of local partnerships in the state, and Early Childhood Funder Collaboration, a group of 16 financial backers, pushed the Office of Early Childhood to focus on families and listen to their needs, Commissioner Beth Bye said.
Bye’s office received support from a group of parents who helped design the cabinet, including reviewing applications and interviewing candidates. The group spent more than a year-and-a-half selecting the cabinet, ensuring each of the state’s six regions had at least two members representing different demographics.
Vaughn represents Region 5, which spans most of western Connecticut, along with Torrington resident Christina Augliera and Danbury resident Maria Vargas.
Since its creation, the cabinet has met monthly and formed subcommittees focused on marketing, home visits, infant-toddler programs and survey development, said Elena Trueworthy, director of the Head Start State Collaboration Office.
“For my whole career in early childhood, it’s been like, ‘We do this, this, this and listen to parents,'” Bye said. “We’re not doing that anymore. It’s not the afterthought. It’s central.”
Parent cabinet members also meet with parent ambassadors who are part of local early childhood collaboratives in the six regions, ensuring parental voices and concerns are heard and collected.
Connecticut is setting an example for the rest of the country with the cabinet, said Elaine Zimmerman, an administrator covering New England for the federal Administration for Children and Families. Other states have various advisories that were formed out of legislation or local policies, she said.
“What is different here is this is truly embedded in the structure, and that decisions in innovation and new design will be made together with the (parents),” she said. “That’s new.”
Bye said she has received significant input from the cabinet, shifting her perspectives on what families need for child care and the transition from child care to public school.
Last month, Bye and Augliera visited Torrington Child Care Center, where Augliera’s autistic 10-year-old son, Connor, received care. Augliera noted there are very few child-care options that provide services for children with special needs in the Northwest Corner.
“It really enabled her to see lived experiences with what I went through,” Augliera said, “and how those systems were inaccessible.”