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'Speak Out for Kids' focuses on child care shortage

Presenters at ‘Speak Out for Kids’ included Sonia Gironda, Rebecca McCall, Jamie Wiener, Jaime Laughter, Greg Borom and McCray Benson. (CONTRIBUTED) Presenters at ‘Speak Out for Kids’ included Sonia Gironda, Rebecca McCall, Jamie Wiener, Jaime Laughter, Greg Borom and McCray Benson. (CONTRIBUTED)

Children & Family Resource Center hosted its 2022 Speak Out for Kids event titled “Let’s Get to Work: Addressing the Child Care Crisis” on Friday, Nov. 4, at Blue Ridge Community College.

The purpose of the event was to educate community leaders and decision-makers about the complex issues surrounding early childhood education and child care in Henderson County and to discuss creative solutions.

The event was sponsored by the Community Foundation of Henderson County and included opening remarks from McCray Benson, executive director. The event consisted of four innovative perspectives presented by local child care experts and professionals, followed by a question and answer session with the panelists.

Speakers included Greg Borom, director of advocacy, Children First Buncombe County; Sonia Gironda, executive director, Smart Start Partnership for Children; Jaime Laughter, Transylvania County manager; and Rebecca McCall, Henderson County commissioner; and Jamie Wiener, executive director at Children and Family Resource Center.

Wiener opened the event by sharing statistics particular to Henderson County, including the lack of slots for children, low wages for teachers, and the high cost of care.

Wiener cited that, on average in Henderson County, early care and education teaching staff make $12 per hour, directors make $19 per hour and that 98 percent of occupations pay more than the child care work. These low-paying positions are challenging to fill, leading to a lack of spots in child care centers. There are roughly 1,100 babies born each year in Henderson County and enough slots for 72.

Wiener’s presentation was followed by an overview of the key findings from the 2022 Henderson County Child Care Demand Study, presented by Gironda, of Smart Start. Gironda gave detailed, locally relevant statistics illustrating how the high cost of care and low wages for workers affects “the workforce behind the workforce” — the ongoing challenge facing most working parents to both pay for child care and work full time.

Borom gave an overview of how state-funded child care subsidies work and highlighted that only 15 percent of eligible kids receive subsidized care. He described how N.C. Child Care Stabilization Grants, short-term funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, have provided a much-needed boost for child care funding but will end next year. Borom noted the need to build “an exit ramp” locally so that centers depending on those grants do not face a funding cliff.

Laughter shared her personal experience as a working mom, as well as from a county manager's perspective. She offered a surprising statistic that the Federal Reserve has studied early childhood alongside additional studies on how human brains develop. It determined that for every dollar invested in early childhood, there is a $14 public return on investment.

“The work we are doing collectively is about investment," she said. When communities invest in child care, "we are making a solid investment in our economy and our community.” Laughter gave examples of child care advocacy and solutions explored by Transylvania County through the GetSet Transylvania initiative.

Commissioner McCall spoke from her personal experience as a working mother and now retired grandmother who serves as a caregiver for her grandchildren. She highlighted that one of Henderson County’s submitted goals is to provide supplemental pay for child care workers. McCall reiterated that families and employers are suffering due to the lack of child care, and encouraged collaboration among business leaders, elected leaders, child care providers and advocates to strategize creative solutions in Henderson County.

“We know the first years of a child’s life are the most important developmentally, setting the foundation for a child’s future,” Wiener said. “Our next generation is depending on us to create systems that help them grow well. By working together, we can explore and implement creative solutions for our kids.”

A practical next step was to form a new child care task force, co-led by McCall and School Board member Amy Lynn Holt. To learn more and get involved, contact Wiener at