More than 60 community members, including business leaders and child care professionals, attended a forum Tuesday night to discuss the child care crisis in Springfield and Greene County and explore potential solutions.
The Child Care and Your Bottom Line forum was held at the eFactory in Downtown Springfield and was hosted by Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the Springfield Daily Citizen and KY3.
The Daily Citizen and KY3 recently partnered on a series of in-depth reports about the current child care crisis that shined a light on the severe shortage of quality child care slots — and how it puts families at risk and adds to the workforce shortage.
Journalism project shines light on child care crisis
KY3 reporters Ashley Reynolds and Elizabeth VanMetre, both new moms, did several reports on the child care crisis.
VanMetre said the reporting project was something they did on top of their usual reporting duties.
“That meant more hours,” VanMetre said at the start of the forum. “And that meant my son came to interviews with me to talk about the child care crisis because I didn’t have child care those days or that time period. So it really hit home for us.”
Reynolds recalled searching for child care during the second trimester of her pregnancy.
“It was a nightmare,” she said.
Daily Citizen CEO David Stoeffler spoke briefly about the reporting project and partnership between KY3 and the Daily Citizen, explaining that he met with KY3’s management team last spring to talk about issues the two news outlets could tackle together.
“This topic was chief among the topics we discussed,” Stoeffler said. “We each have our unique skills. We have the power of in-depth reporting. We have the ability to produce great stories in text and photos and graphics and in video.
“We also share some mutual values — a belief that good journalism can bring a light and help people understand complex issues,” he continued, “and also a belief in the power of journalism for good and the ability to make change in a community more possible.”
Greene County lost 700 licensed child care spots since 2019
In the past two years, Greene County has permanently lost about 700 licensed child care spots. And most child care centers in this community are currently operating at one-half to two-thirds of capacity due to staff shortages.
These staffing issues plague the child care industry, which unlike other industries cannot easily pass the cost of wage increases on to its customers. Those customers are parents who are already struggling to pay current tuition rates.
Sally Payne, director of Workforce Development for the City of Springfield, explained how the child care crisis is impacting everyone, regardless if you have small children or not.
Since employees in every industry need a safe place to put their children while they work, the child care industry is supporting all other industries, Payne said.
“Child care is an economic development issue. It’s a workforce development issue,” Payne said. “Women contribute significantly to the GDP and GDP is significantly down due to the lack of women in the workforce. But I also can’t leave out single dads and foster families.”
“It’s an attraction and retention issue,” Payne said, “that all employers have been struggling with since this very strange, erratic economy took place, and we are still in it. Frankly, I think we are going to be in it for a while.”
Looking at the issue from the perspective of the child care providers, Payne explained why the current child care business model just doesn’t work:
“They don’t have that luxury of raising wages. The basic principles of economics doesn’t apply here,” she said. “You can’t supply and demand your way out of it. You can’t add more children to bring in more revenue to your classroom because then your (child to teacher) ratio goes up.
“And I am not an advocate by any means — let me just get this on the record — of lowering those ratios,” she said. “That is dangerous. That is a safety issue.”
Solutions could include seeking ARPA funds, adding a sales tax
Potential solutions explored at the forum included seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds to create a program to subsidize child care providers so they could pay employees more, and then possibly seeking a sales tax that would generate $6 million a year to sustain that program into the future. There was also talk about the need for legislative changes, including changes to the state’s licensing requirements.
“At this time, our federal government is not funding any sort of child care anything,” Payne said. “So it is up to us at the state level and the local level.”
OTC Early Childhood Education Center’s director Jennifer Crouch was among the panelists invited to speak at Tuesday’s forum.
Crouch said if the Springfield business community would advocate for those legislative changes and funding sources, that would be “tremendous.”
“I’m grateful for this forum,” Crouch said. “This is something the early childhood community in Springfield (has) been talking about for years: How do we draw in the business community to see the importance of getting involved and investing in child care and early childhood. This is really exciting that this event is happening.”
Waitlists for licensed child care spots can be years long
Crouch explained that the OTC Early Childhood Education Center prioritizes children of OTC students and staff, but is open to the community when spots are available. One classroom has a waitlist that is about three years long. Other classrooms have shorter waitlists, she said, but are still over a year long.
“Unfortunately our waitlist is very, very long. We are a nationally accredited center with really high demand,” Crouch said. “A community member’s chance of getting in is really, really slim.
“The phone calls from families who are desperate is something I’ve never experienced in my over 20 years of directing early childhood programs,” she said. “I just haven’t experienced the crisis and desperation there is right now for families trying to find child care.”
Two major Springfield-based employers weigh in
Krisi Schell, executive vice president of Human Resources at SRC Holdings, was among the panelists Tuesday. Schell spoke about the challenge of hiring people right now, in part, due to lack of child care options and how SRC Holdings is willing to invest in solutions.
“I honestly can’t imagine having a newborn or even finding out that I was going to have a newborn,” Schell said, “and having some of that joy robbed by the fact that I won’t be sure how I was going to have the child cared for and continue my career.”
Diane Rozier, director of Human Resources and Safety at CNH Industrial Reman, spoke about how the crisis is impacting CNH’s strategic business plan which includes an emphasis on work-life balance for employees.
“How do we look at benefits and really consider what is the most meaningful thing that we can do to attract people to our business?” Rozier said.
Rozier also spoke about the impact the child care crisis has on diversity and inclusion in the workforce, as well as increasing the number of women in leadership positions — since it is usually moms who wind up leaving the workforce to care for small children at home.
“It is a residual effect down the road that should be considered,” she said.
New service aims to help parents find child care
Dana Carroll, vice president of Early Childhood and Family Development at Community Partnership of the Ozarks, has been working with both families and child care providers in the Ozarks for more than 20 years. Carroll was a source in many of KY3’s and Daily Citizen’s Child Care Crisis Project stories and spoke at Tuesday’s forum.
“If you are struggling to find care and you are desperate and you’ve got to go to work tomorrow, you’ll settle for something less than what you really want,” Carroll said. “And that scares me. It scares me that we have families out there choosing substandard care in unlicensed homes. That is why I still do this. I know there are still families out there that are desperate.”
Carroll recently worked with Christy Davis, director of Springfield Public School’s Wonder Years and Parents as Teachers early childhood efforts, to develop the new Child Care Connect service, which will be housed at CPO. It is expected to work like this:
- Parents will fill out an online survey to submit information about their child care needs.
- Providers will report information about openings that are available.
- The website managers will update a spreadsheet with available spaces, and parents will be able to see it and get help from CPO staff in making decisions about the spaces that fit their needs.
- There will also be a phone hotline linked to the service.