Eye on KELOLAND: Child care crisis

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A child care crisis is brewing in Sioux Falls as local providers are getting desperate for employees.

From Kids Inc. to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire and more, organizations had dozens of openings and they’re scrambling to find ways to recruit new people.

The game of chess is all about strategy. Lauryn Kennett and Wyatt Cooper are enjoying a friendly match thanks to Kids Inc. at Rosa Parks. The same after school care program is available at all 22 traditional elementary schools in Sioux Falls and serves 1,500 kids.

“My favorite thing to do is library and gym and art. We do art activities and sometimes we just relax in there if it’s been a hard day,” Cooper said.

“There’s always a time to give homework and for you to read and finish up work from school,” Lauryn said.

This care right now is a luxury for some parents and not available for others. That’s because child care organizations like Kids Inc. are trying to avoid being backed into a corner and it’s all related to a workforce shortage.

Lauryn’s dad Brad, a teacher at Washington High, hates to think about what would happen if his daughter couldn’t attend. It’s a service he and his family count on.

“Absolutely love what goes on there. I guess my biggest thing that sums it up, my daughters would get mad if we’d pick them up early,” Kennett said.

The problem: it’s getting harder and harder to recruit and retain help.

“Anytime throughout the year, we have anywhere from 15-18 staff openings and that will usually last year round,” Miller said.

Kids Inc. Program Manager Jodi Miller says the result of that issue will be cutbacks.

“R.F. Pettigrew, Discovery, where we’ve gone all the way up to 120 students with eight staff there. We may have to cut that back next year. And we still have 50 kids on a waiting list. That will be very detrimental to parents because there’s not a lot of options on the west side of town,” Miller said.

This is a south side child care center operated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire. If you’d like to bring your child here, better get on the list because demand is so high, the wait is two years.

“If something does not change, there’s going to be drastic things that happen to our child care environment here in Sioux Falls,” Wimmer said.

CEO Rebecca Wimmer says the Boys and Girls Clubs in Sioux Falls tend to 1,500 children, from babies to teenagers. She has 200 staff and more than a dozen openings.

“So this year we had about 60 kids that went off to kindergarten and we typically fill those within the next couple of months. We are not able to fill those right now because we don’t have the capacity,” Wimmer said.

For parents, like Joe Kippley, it just adds to their worries.

“It’s a big challenge right now to get your foot in the door to a daycare center,” Kippley said.

The father of two’s advice, start looking early. His daughter Grace goes here and baby Rose will also be attending soon. He likes the technology a bigger center can offer.

“You realize how much you’re relying on these people and you want to be able to trust them and know that your kids are in good hands,” Kippley said.

He says consistency is key. Maintaining that has become a full-on crisis.

“A crisis would be accurate. I’m part of a downtown collaborative group that is a group of child care providers that meet together and really try to tackle this workforce issue,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer says organizations are needing to be more flexible and instead of competing with one another for talent, cooperate. She’s talking with others about creating efficiencies, from sharing transportation to people.

“We’re talking about job share options. So if I have a part-time position open and EmBe has a part-time position open, can we combine those into a full-time position with benefits that would entice somebody to stay in that field as a career as opposed to leaving,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer says people are leaving the industry completely because of pay. The biggest need is for specialists or helpers. Those employees often work part-time, make less than $13-an-hour and aren’t eligible for benefits. If pay increases for those workers, those costs will be passed on to parents.

“Sometimes that’s why we lose our workers. We can’t give them that full time and the benefits with our lead helpers. They turn 26, they’re off mom and dad’s insurance and then they have to go find their own and we lose them,” Miller said.

Kids Inc. is starting a campaign to recruit more workers. Miller is targeting high school and college students, stay-at-home moms looking to transition back to work and retirees. But you have to want to work with kids.

“We’re not really babysitters, it’s a profession and it’s one that’s growing and it’s needed because the workforce depends on us having a place for their students to go after school,” Miller said.

“Peace of mind knowing that your child is at the same location that they went to school at and just being in the same location is great,” Kennett said.

Many families these days have two working parents. Someone needs to be able to care for the kids if other local businesses want to have a workforce as well.

“It’s going to be a crisis, not just for our organizations, but for employers out there who will no longer be able to have employees because there’s no child care,” Wimmer said.

And it’s more than just child care they’re providing, Wimmer says it’s community development. Those who choose to work in this field are making a big difference in kids’ lives.

“They’re learning to be responsible adults. They’re volunteering in the community. That’s why you do this. That’s why you invest so much in these kids because you see the amazing results that you get,” Wimmer said.

“What we learn at Kids Inc. is how to cooperate with each other and be a better person inside and by not bullying other people,” Cooper said.

Cooper hopes to take the knowledge he gains from school and Kids Inc. and one day explore the universe.

“I want to either be an astronaut or a paleontologist. It’s because I’ve always wanted to visit space and I’ve always wanted to find a new dinosaur,” Cooper said.

Providing more safe spaces like these for kids will be an important challenge to solve and one that will require innovation.

Wimmer with the Boys and Girls Clubs says there’s also talk of finding local subsidies. She’s wondering if there are opportunities where the community can step up and help tackle the crisis.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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