SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For months we’ve been sharing stories of the challenging childcare shortage in KELOLAND.

Families are struggling to find available and affordable childcare all over the state as centers struggle to find workers. But South Dakota officials are also working to spur on another form of childcare that can have a big impact on filling some of the state’s needs.

“My painting is golden,” 5-year-old Masie said at the end of painting time at her day care. 

Maisie is getting ready for kindergarten now that she turned five.

“Ya because it was my birthday and I had a piece of unicorn cake!” Masie said. 

As enthusiastic as she is about birthdays, she’s just as excited to head to school this fall.

“M-A-I-S-I-E,” she said when asked to spell her name. 

She’ll be well prepared for school thanks to the help of one of her favorite people.

Bridget Bennett: Who taught you how to spell your name? 
Masie: Auntie Joy did!

“We’re more than teachers: we’re teachers, we’re nurses, we’re therapists, we’re gym teachers, we’re all of these things for these kids,” Masie’s day care teacher Joy Viessman said. 

Joy Viessman has run a day care in her home for the past 13 years and says it’s the best job in the world.

“My kids here, I would do anything for any of them,” Viessman said. 

“I am with them probably 50 hours a week, I watch them grow, develop, learn,” new day care provider Stephanie Nicolaisen said.

Nicolaisen started a day care in her home less than two years ago.

“I worked at Avera for five years and then COVID hit and we were short on day care,” Nicolaisen said. 

When she couldn’t find a day care option for her baby and young son in 2020, she decided to open her own.

“You can spend quality time with your children,” Nicolaisen said. “You can not only love on them daily but teach them as well.”

She says her boys have loved having plenty of friends to play with every day.

“He loves his friends, even on the weekends, he’s asking for certain friends to come over and play with him,” Nicolaisen said. 

“When she talks about their day it’s all about Auntie Joy and how Oaklyn Faith is her best friend,” Sioux Falls mom Bailey Anders said. 

It’s that close-knit community that drew new mom Bailey Anders to a family day care setting.

“I like the in-homes because it’s like you’re dropping your kids off at grandma’s house or you’re dropping them off with an aunt and uncle. Whereas at a center I just felt like my kid was another number honestly,” Anders said. 

“They play a critical role in providing choice to parents,” Becky Nelson with the Department of Social Services said.

Becky Nelson manages day care licensing and accreditation for all of the child care centers in the state, including the 278 current registered family day care providers.

“It may take a few more family day cares to equate to what a center could provide,” Nelson said. 

In-home day cares can have up to 12 kids, but they’re only allowed four children under the age of two.

“The crisis here for infant day care is tremendously high,” Viessman said. “I’m filled on infants until 2024, just with parents that are going to expect babies.”

The extra care needed for babies under two is why the state has such low ratios, but those restrictions also mean longer wait times for parents.

“That was our biggest struggle was just trying to find an opening,” Anders said. “Infant care was really hard. I did look at centers, just the pricing was ridiculous.”

“Full time rates at in-home providers in this city average between $120 a week and $175 to $180 per week. I do believe centers start at $220, $225 and up,” Viessman said.

It’s another reason some families choose in-home providers over day care centers.

“There are so many families that are struggling right now, not only with finding care but affording it as well,” Nicolaisen said. 

Not having to pay for childcare herself is one reason Nicolaisen says she’s actually making more money doing day care over her former full-time job.

“If there’s anybody thinking about starting a day care and they’re worried about that financial, I could guarantee you would be either making the same or more,” Nicolaisen said. 

But the expenses that come with running a day care just keep going up.

“As providers we all take home about 40 to 50 percent of what we make. A lot of our stuff goes back into the day care, we have food we have operating costs, we have crafts, arts, learning, many of those things,” Viessman said. 

It’s why the state of South Dakota is making some new investments to help more family day care providers start and continue their business.

“There are a lot of incentives and benefits to be a state registered provider,” Nelson said.

Nelson says state-registered providers are eligible for health and safety grants to help their home meet any licensing requirements. They’re also eligible for a yearly infant and toddler grant to help pay for toys and supplies. State registered providers are also able to take advantage of free professional development classes including getting their child development associate credentials. 

But only state-registered in-home providers are eligible for these many state and federal assistance programs.

“Just because food prices are going up and things are becoming more expensive I decided to do the state certification for the food program,” Nicolaisen said. 

Only state registered providers are eligible to take part in the food program that helps reimburse in-home providers for the food they serve their day care kids throughout the day. 

These state-registered providers are also the only option for any families who qualify for state childcare assistance.

“One of the incentives to become a registered family day care provider is the childcare assistance program. The childcare assistance program provides support to those families who are eligible for that program,” Nelson said. 

Nicolaisen was originally only certified with the city when she opened her day care, but she says becoming state certified made sense for helping other families in need and also made this career more financially feasible for her own family.

“I look at being on state as a job promotion because of the benefits that come along with it,” Nicolaisen said. 

“There are more funds available now so it’s great timing for city registered providers to become state registered,” Nelson said. 

More than $32 million from the American Rescue Plan have already been distributed to state-registered day cares in South Dakota since January, but Nelson says more federal funds will soon be available to support those state registered providers.

“So I would encourage any city registered provider that is interested in becoming state registered to start their application process now,” Nelson said. 

“If you’re going to become a day care provider, I honestly suggest to go all the way and just become state. There’s not much more to it, the fingerprinting, you do a 12-hour orientation class, you check all your rates and you’re ready to go,” Nicolaisen said. 

In South Dakota, in-home childcare providers also have the choice of opening with a city license only in the cities that require it. In some cities and rural communities, no certification or licensing is required. 

“We’re all the same, we all love children, we’re all doing the best we can to raise them in this society,” Viessman said.

No matter what route they chose to start, these providers say running a day care in their home has been an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career.

“Every once in a while, people will look at me and be like how do you raise four kids? I say I’m raising 12 daily and I absolutely love it,” Nicolaisen said. 

“I have had all of these children from birth,” Viessman said. “I love them so much I will take the day off when each of them goes to school.

A day that’s coming far too soon for little miss Maisie.

“Ya, she’ll cry,” Maisie said with the confidence of a child who knows she’s loved.

Parents say finding an in-home provider can be one of the biggest barriers to the field. The state has a list of all state-registered in-home providers on its website.

You can also call 211 to find a list of city-registered day cares in your community.