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Your neighbor or friend can do child care for your kids, and New York will pay for it

Cathy Brodeur, from the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project.
Amy Feiereisel
Cathy Brodeur, from the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project.

More people becoming Legally Exempt Child Care Providers

The North Country is considered a child care desert, which means there are many more children than spots in child care centers or home daycares.

Because there are so few spots, more families have been turning to an alternative lately, which is to use a Legally Exempt Child Care Provider. Basically, a friend or a neighbor or a family member can be approved to a family's children, in their home, and get paid by the state to do so.

While New York has long had this Legally Exempt Child Care Provider option, a few things have changed in recent years that make it more attractive, explained Cathy Brodeur, director of the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project.

First, many more families are now eligible for the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which pays Legally Exempt Child Care Providers. For example, a family of four that makes less than $90,000 a year now qualifies. In 2019, they had to make less than $55,000.

Second, reimbursement rates for providers have increased. That's the money that a Legally Exempt Provider recieves from the state for watching children.

Heather Vincent has experienced both of these changes firsthand.

A Child Care solution in Carthage

In the fall of 2021, Heather Vincent was looking for part-time work in Carthage, where she lives. She had just retired from the military (she was stationed at Fort Drum) after fifteen years working for the US Army and the National Guard as a mechanic.

Because Vincent and her husband have six school aged kids together, she needed to find something flexible. Something that would let her get the kids to school in the morning and meet them in the afternoon.

"I was like, okay, my husband is working full time. I'm staying home because obviously, childcare is ridiculously expensive," said Vincent. "And to have six kids in childcare is pretty much an entire paycheck, if I was to go to work."

At the time, Vincent was coaching a sports team her own kids were on, and one of the other moms approached her. She was looking for someone to care for her youngest daughters during the school day, and to watch her older daughters when they got out of school.

That family, the Longs, qualified for the NY Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which meant if Vincent was willing to go through a background check and get registered as a Legally Exempt Child Care Provider, she'd get paid by the state to watch the Long children.

Heather Vincent with one of the children she cares for. Carthage, NY.
Photo courtesy of Heather Vincent.
Heather Vincent with one of the children she cares for. Carthage, NY.

"I was like, you know, this would be perfect," remembered Vincent. "It gives me an opportunity to make money, but then still be able to do what I need to do for my kids. I'd be able to get off work in plenty of time to bring them to all their sports...be home for dinner."

So Vincent said yes, went through the background check, and started looking after the Long girls. Conveniently, the Long family lives right around the corner from Vincent.

Vincent has been taking care of those kids for almost two years now. She says she’s forged a really special relationship. "I'm very close to your the family, the kids. You know, instead of me being called Miss Heather, they actually call me Auntie Heather now, because we built that bond. I was blessed their mom actually asked me to be the godmother of the infant."

A financial win for both families

Vincent says that it also works well financially. Both of the Long parents are able to work full-time, said Vincent, "They can go to work, they can make income to be able to support their household," and the state pays for the vast majority of Vincent’s salary, through CCAP.

CCAP has seen a lot of change in just the last few years, including increased reimbursement rates for providers.

When Vincent started in 2021, she was making around $1400 a month to watch the Long kids. The new rates brought her up to $2000 a month. That makes a big difference to their family of eight, says Vincent.

"It was a huge increase. [With] the jump [in pay], we've been able to level a lot more things out," said Vincent.

Her six kids are all in sports, and she says the extra money has "been able to alleviate a lot of the stress of, okay, where's this money gonna come from this month to you know, pay for uniforms this month, or that kind of stuff."

According to the Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project, more people, just like Vincent and the Long family, have been going through the Legally Exempt Child Care Process in the past few years.

They say many families don’t even realize that the neighbor, or mother-in-law, or friend, that watches their kids now, could be getting paid to do so by the state.

If you’d like to explore the Legally Exempt Child Care process, get in touch with your local Child Care and Resource Referral Agency, listed below. 

St. Lawrence Child Care Council (serves St. Lawrence County).

Jefferson-Lewis Child Care Project (serves Jefferson and Lewis counties).

Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, Inc. (serves Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties).

ACAP - Adirondack Community Action Programs, Inc. (serves Essex county).

Southern Adirondack Child Care Network, Inc. (serves Hamilton, Warren, and Washington counties).

Child Care Council of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County (serves Herkimer county).