A new program aims to address Vermont's childcare shortage by helping to create 500 new high-quality childcare spaces in the state each year. Make Way for Kids is a project of Vermont Birth to Five, an organization focused on addressing gaps in childcare and supporting childcare providers. The quality of care in the state has increased over the last decade, said Vermont Birth to Five executive director Janet McLaughlin, thanks in part to STARS, the state's Step Ahead Recognition System launched in 2004 to recognize high-quality childcare, preschool and after-school programs. Vermont Birth to Five, she explained, has been instrumental in helping providers participate in that program. But the availability of childcare remains a problem, she said. Forty-seven percent of Vermont infants and toddlers likely to need care don't have access to regulated childcare, according to a 2017 report from Let's Grow Kids, Vermont Birth to Five's sister organization. And 79% of infants and toddlers in the state don't have access to high-quality childcare, those programs that are accredited and have earned four or five stars in the STARS program. Over the next year, Make Way for Kids will award at least $300,000 in grants to help expand existing programs, start up new programs, and support providers in attracting and training skilled educators. "We know there are many excellent providers throughout the state," said McLaughlin. "We want to support as many of these projects as possible."