An after-school crisis

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Right now the entire country is facing a child care crisis because providers can’t find enough staff to help take care of the kids. This is happening right here in South Dakota as well. In Sioux Falls, many centers have had to raise wages to incentivize employees, but that leads to raising the rates of care. And those rates are putting a burden on parents.

Taylor Rehfeldt is a mom of two in Sioux Falls. Now that her oldest has started school, she’s been experiencing the child care crisis first-hand.

“So our daughter has been in the same daycare center since she was a baby so we haven’t had too many issues with her, but our son just entered kindergarten and he started at Sonia Sotomayor, which is in the central part of town, and we can’t find before and after school care for him,” Rehfeldt said.

She and her husband both work in health care, which makes finding a flexible schedule difficult. She says they are on multiple waiting lists that have 40-50 other kids on them.

“I would say it adds another level of stress, it’s changed my workday,” Rehfeldt said. “So, I’m in my office only about five to six hours a day versus my normal eight to ten hour workday. So what happens is I’m working at home more with my children and, you know, that impacts your family life, your ability to bond with your kids and adds to stress at the work balance at home.”

The Sioux Falls School District has an after-school program called Kids Inc that serves students in Kindergarten through fifth grade at all 22 of the District’s elementary schools. However, the child care crisis has had a major impact on how many kids can be in the program.

“It just got to the crisis point but we’ve been suffering through some of this probably for the last three to five years,” Jodi Miller, Kids Inc program manager, said. “We’ve been having staff issues and what we’ve gradually done is decrease the number of kids we can take because we can’t fill the staff position.”

People look at us as just babysitters and we’re actually forming the new generation of people that will take over this world and we need to have some credit for all the work that we do each day.

Jodi Miller, Kids Inc program manager

In order to meet the state requirement of one child care worker for every 15 students, the District has had to eliminate 200 spots in their program throughout the last three years.

“We have between 700 and a thousand people on waiting lists across the District right now,” Miller said. “And I know it’s difficult for parents to find care and it has been, especially on the west side of Sioux Falls. We carry 50 to 75 people on a waiting list for the four schools on the west side of town. It just makes it really difficult for parents that can’t get away to pick up their students after school.”

Like many child care centers, the District has had to raise wages for employees to entice new staff members. However, that’s led to an increase in the rates parents have to pay for the program.

“It’s already a struggle for many parents because in South Dakota, the Augustana research study that came out last summer that we did with the Childcare Collaborative in Sioux Falls shows that Sioux Falls people are paying a lot higher percentage of their total income on child care than is average across the nation,” Miller said. “I believe the average across the nation is less than 20 percent and our parents are paying almost 30 percent of their income on child care costs.”

Rehfeldt is also a state legislator. She says the child care crisis is going to be a focus for her this legislative session.

“Thankfully, the governor’s budget address, she proposed about a hundred million dollars of funding to go towards child care, which I think will help a lot,” Rehfeldt said. “So that has been proposed to essentially work on already existent child care centers as well as to help others open child care centers and then also potentially offer some scholarship opportunities to help those that are already in child care remain there.”

“Honestly, other than that money that Governor Noem has allotted for child care centers and before and after-school programs, we don’t get a lot of assistance from the State in South Dakota,” Miller said.

I think that what I’ve heard from my rural other legislators that live in those rural areas is that they have more of the issues of actually having childcare centers open rather than the workforce issues.

Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, (R) Sioux Falls

Experts say the solution to this problem is not going to come in a one-size-fits-all package, but collaboration is key in bringing the issue to light and finding answers.

“In my legislative hat, what I’ve been doing is researching areas that can be improved and some of those areas are, how do we incentivize people to enter into the workforce of childcare,” Rehfeldt said. “It’s hard because one, I think it was 40 percent of child care workers were displaced during the pandemic and one in eight of those have not returned to the workforce.”

“I think we’re going to need a lot of parents and community members to step up and help us solve this problem,” Miller said. “They need to realize that it is a crisis right now and centers are closing and they could lose their child care. Whether it’s going to their employers and asking them for assistance in either finding child care or subsidizing child care or providing on-site child care. You know, there’s a lot of different things we can do but I think we need a lot more people to come to the table and help us figure out how to solve this problem.”

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