TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – Local parent Rebekah Davis says it’s hard to find childcare options right now.
“We were going to a daycare that ended up closing because the owner’s son had asthma and she was so terrified of COVID that she decided to close,” Davis explained. “I went to another daycare, they had openings at the time and then they were trying to fill up so they gave us a discount. Well, when that ended, I couldn’t afford them anymore.
Davis said she’s happy with her daughter’s current daycare, but if anything were to change, she would have no idea if she could find another daycare that would work for her family.
Davis added that she has asked several other parents to inquire about her current daycare, but they will have to wait a while before they can bring their children in.
“I’ll give them the phone number of the lady who owns mine, but she already told me she has a waiting list until this fall,” Davis said.
Waiting lists are also a factor in the new Deming Early Learning Centerr in the county of Vigo.
“At my site, we have nearly 300 children and we still have a long waiting list,” said Ashley Bennett, director of the Deming Early Learning Centre. “Just having these sites to take the kids to is probably the biggest problem.”
When deciding where to send their children to daycare, parents also face a lack of choice in some parts of the Wabash Valley.
“I use the analogy of maybe stopping at McDonald’s when you’re traveling,” said ISU Early Childhood Education Center Director Holly Curtsinger. “Even if it’s not your favorite dish, you know what to expect, you know?” So we see a lot of people who need child care looking for those franchise options, the more preschool academies, the daycares, those kinds of programs that we don’t have here in Vigo county or in our region.
Curtsinger added that family homes turned daycares work for some families but not others, in the same way centers that focus more on teaching than playing don’t work for some families.
The factors of access, availability and choice all contribute to the classification of a territory as a “childcare desert”.
“The child care desert is defined as an area where the need for child care does not match the available capacity,” explained Curtsinger, who is also co-chair of United Way of the Wabash Valley’s Success by Six Council.
Parts of our local area fall into the child care desert category, but organizations like the United Way are finding ways to help.
“The Quality Childcare Initiative grant is significant,” Curtsinger said. “Since 2017, approximately $170,000 has been invested in local child care.”
In December, $100,000 was given to the organization by Early Learning Indiana to help fund the Highland Church Childcare Ministry on the east side of Terre Haute.
“It has already been approved for three of the four classrooms we are opening,” explained Dawn Langer, owner and director of Nurture with Nature: Highland Church Childcare Ministry. “For an infant/toddler class, a two to three year old class and also a preschool class. Also, this will complete our entire outdoor classroom with the enclosure of it.
Dawn Langer, who operates several Nurture with Nature child care centers in the area, will lead the Highland Church location and said it will give children a head start before entering kindergarten.
“It’s important that children start entering child care well before school so they can start developing the skills they need,” Langer said. “Socially and academically today, kindergarten is quite rigorous. There are a lot of expectations by the time they get to kindergarten, so they need some of those early skills that they learn in infancy.
Kindergarten readiness, as Langer mentioned, has both academic and social components.
“Early learning is mostly about social-emotional learning,” Bennett said. “Learning to take turns, learning to queue, getting along with friends, sitting down so you can listen to a teacher, or just staying in your space. It’s huge when they get to school. If they don’t have those skills, they can’t learn the active academic skills because we have to go back and re-teach them.
Local child care professionals recognize that not all families will be interested in ministry child care, but funding options allow more families to find a place to take their children.
On my way Pre-K subsidies are also helpful for families struggling to pay child care costs.
“It’s a chance for people who may not have been able to afford a high quality program in the past to get their program paid for, which has been, I mean, phenomenal this year, because with people out of work and wherever you are. In life, child care is expensive and high-quality child care is very expensive,” Bennett said. “It’s expensive to run and it’s is expensive to use, but these grants have really leveled the playing field for everyone.”
Finding staff for these centers is another hurdle for child care professionals.
“We need quality staff because, you know, we don’t let our babies be taken care of by just anybody,” Bennett said. “It should be high quality people you know who are really invested and have a heart for early learning.”
Indiana State University is an asset in our region that organizations have partnered with to create more early learning opportunities as well as education for those interested in childcare-related careers.
Curtsinger said the benefits of programs like the ISU Early Childhood Education Center are two-fold, as they lead to a greater pool of talent and a stronger workforce in our region.
“These higher education institutions are looking for people with specific skills to fill their vacancies,” Curtsinger said. “And one of the best ways to recruit is to recruit the whole family. So if we have those support systems in place as a community, our chances of recruiting top talent, you know, increase.
You can find ISU programming-specific job opportunities by visiting the university’s website. human resources page.