SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A parent should be able to go to work and not worry if their child care is going to continue or if their child is safe, said Sara Foust, the director of the Codington County Welfare.

Foust is convinced that partners in Watertown can solve a child care need in the community because they know the importance of child care and the need.

A new survey called the Codington County Child Care Survey 2023 reinforces what social services and others knew: There is a need for child care in the community, Foust said.

About 84.7% of children in Codington County rely on some form of child care as both parents are in the labor force, according to 2021 Kids Count Data Center data used in the survey.

74% of the 345 respondents said the county did not have enough child care opportunities.

“One thing that did surprise me the number of people who had child care but wanted a different type of child care,” Foust said. The respondent may have a family member or someone watching a child informally but were looking for a licensed child care opportunity, she said.

The desire for a licensed child care may stem from concerns about safety and consistency. A parent may worry their child care will go away because someone gets tired of it or isn’t able to do it more.

41 of the respondents said a friend or family was caring for their child outside the home or inside the respondent’s home.

The friend or family option can cause residual impacts, Foust said.

Foust said one of the issues social services deals with is adults who can’t make their own appointments because they are providing child care for a family member or friend.

In some cases, child care isn’t available.

Several respondents pointed out that the community does not have evening or weekend child care options. Socials services has noted that there are no known registered providers that provide weekend care as an option.

Foust said filling this gap will require creativity because the solution isn’t likely going to be a licensed child care center. Partners may be able to work with in-home providers on a solution, she said.

“They can’t work third shift, they can’t work evenings because there is no one available to watch their child,” Foust said.

In general a parent that does not have child care may not be able to work which creates additional pressure on an existing need for employees in the county.

Codington County had a 2.1% unemployment rate in January 2023. The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation estimated in January that the labor supply in the county was 1,000 to 2,999 persons. The labor supply includes “those who currently hold jobs (and would like to change) and those who, for a variety of reasons, do not have jobs.”

Employers have already been involved in child care discussions including in the survey, Foust said. They have been among the biggest supporters of assessing and addressing the child care need.

“We are moving into the next phase implementing action plans. We know the next phase for child care is engaging employers and having discussions about how we can support child care options,” Foust said.

A business may have an available building or be willing to provide other help, Foust said.

Solutions can also include an existing licensed or registered child care provider who wants to expand but needs help to do so.

The South Dakota Child and Family Resource Network office at South Dakota State University in Brookings is a partner in the discussion.

April Flemming, the assistant outreach coordinator for Child and Family Resource Network said it can help existing license and registered providers who want to expand or those who want to get registered or licensed. The network can help with grants and provides other services, Flemming said.

The network was very valuable with the survey work, Foust said.

The survey is an example of how the network helps with child care, Flemming said.

The survey also noted that the birth rate in Codington County decreased by 22% from 2011 to 2020, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

Foust said it’s possible the need for more child care options in the county helped to decrease the birth rate. Parents may choose to have fewer children or wait to have children because child care is difficult to find, she said.

Respondents reported waits of a month or two months for a child care opening. 51% of 191 respondents said it took more than one to two months to secure child care.

Foust said she knows parents who have secured an infant spot more than a year before having a child.

The survey also addressed after school care and affordability.

According to the Kids Count Data Center, parents pay between $5,850 and $7,250 per year for a child to attend a registered family home. While parents pay between $7,020 and $9,830 for their child to attend a licensed facility.

Most respondents said they paid up to $150 a week per child. 24% said they were willing, or able, to spend less than $100 per week per child.

Other cities and counties are trying to address their own child care needs.

Often, “it takes small steps. One foot at a time,” Flemming said.

What can work in Watertown or Codington may not work in another community, Flemming said.