Child Care Crisis: Centers keep closing, families can’t afford care

Published: Jul. 24, 2022 at 2:02 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 4:18 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s considered the hidden backbone of our economy, and experts warn -- it’s about to break.

Even if you don’t have children, it’s affecting you. It’s one of the biggest reasons why most businesses are short-staffed.

Child Care Crisis/KY3
Child Care Crisis/KY3(ky3)

KY3 News is working with the Springfield Daily Citizen to address the lack of child care in the Ozarks. CLICK HERE for more coverage.

Research shows that the country could lose half of its licensed facilities if something is not done.

Since the pandemic’s start, Missouri has lost more than ten percent of its child care businesses. In Springfield alone, about a dozen child care centers closed in less than two years. That means more than four thousand spots for kids are gone.

Today’s advice for new parents, the second you find out you’re expecting a child, you should get on several waiting lists. It’s not uncommon for parents to wait months or even years for a spot to open at a child care center. And after you get a coveted spot -- can you afford the bill?

Kelsie Young Smith and her husband Jeremiah have three children, Jameson, Lucita, and Elias. That’s three kids under seven. Both parents work.

“We have been on lots of waiting lists on lots of different daycares in town. Hopefully, you just find one you feel comfortable with, and then you stay on waiting lists until you get on one that’s closer to your house or work or one you want to be in,” said Young Smith.

Suppose you can find a spot. Can you pay the price?

“We have paid up to $220 a week per child,” said Young Smith.

That’s more than $34,320 per year for child care.

“I didn’t make as much as the three daycare payments cost at the time,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address said his plan is to cut the cost.

“Middle-class and working folks shouldn’t have to pay more than seven percent of their income to care for their young children,” said President Biden.

Young Smith and her husband must make $491,000 each year for child care to be seven percent of their budget. She was able to find a job with a flexible schedule and can work some from home.

“For me, the thing that’s made all the difference is supportive employers,” said Young Smith.

Parents make up nearly half of today’s workforce. Experts say we have an emergency, and something must be done.

“If we don’t find ways to bridge gaps, just strategies, to buy us some time for this workforce, we aren’t going to have a workforce to talk about,” said Robin Phillips with Care Child Aware Missouri.

Finding solutions for our child care crisis means more parents can return to the workforce.

“If I’m putting my child in care, then it will allow me to work in health, to work in manufacturing, in construction. It supports every other industry, but we often don’t think about it. It’s supporting the workers that go out and work in the other industries,” said Sally Payne, with Springfield Workforce Development.

Child care centers are closing at an alarming rate.

“Right now, they’re closing faster than we can reopen them. We have to place a priority on this that we have not done,” said Dana Carroll with Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

Doors close because very few people want to work these jobs. Low pay and usually no benefits. The average child care employee makes around $11 an hour.

Messiah Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center is running at 60 percent capacity. That means they have the space and resources for more kids but don’t have the staff.

“The retail centers around here pay better. McDonald’s pays better and has better benefits,” said Jessica Phillips with Messiah Lighthouse.

Facilities must follow the laws. There are staff and children ratios. The waitlist grows. There are seventy kids with families hoping they’ll get in.

“We are getting calls every day, and it’s just very defeating to have to tell families, I’m sorry we are not going to have a spot maybe four or six months to a year for your child, and even then, I can’t guarantee it,” said Phillips.

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