TRAVERSE CITY — In the same week state officials doled out thousands of dollars to child care centers across the state, a new report has thrown in worrying news: Many are understaffed.
The report, released on Tuesday, identified a 20% vacancy for full-time childcare providers. It also identified a 34% vacancy rate for part-time staff – employees who are less qualified but often seen as essential to keeping centers operational. The pinch is being felt in the North, where daycare owners can’t offer much to make their vacancies attractive.
For years, Anna Fryer said she had little trouble hiring. His company, Teddy Bear Daycare, operates three centers between Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. The COVID closures have triggered staff departures at all of them, leaving fewer watchful eyes to watch the 145 toddlers and infants being cared for between all of its centres.
The departures came even as dozens of other county daycares were closing. Like many centers, its waiting list has more than 200 families.
“We had absolutely no problem recruiting. No problem finding accredited personnel,” Fryer said. “We never had staff leaving.”
But the staff left. They told Fryer they had to take care of their own children at home as they struggled with online learning. Or they said they were worried about the infection themselves. In total, it lost five teachers.
National regulations limit the number of children who can be supervised by an approved provider to a 6:1 ratio. These ratios mean that five departures translates into many more unavailable daycare slots.
When it came to replacing them, the new employees were simply not there.
“It felt like we were hitting a brick wall,” Fryer said.
Nationally, the child care industry has been labeled “America’s most broken business.” The centers offer a starting salary of $13.50. For teachers with a master’s degree, salaries start at $15.
Owners like Fryer say they want to raise them, but can’t do it without charging parents more. Meanwhile, parents are already paying $52 a day to drop off preschoolers and up to $67 a day for infants.
In a calendar year, a parent would pay up to $13,500 to secure a place for a preschooler, over a year’s worth of tuition at Grand Valley State University, and exactly the same costs at Michigan State University or the University of Michigan.
Fryer therefore cannot increase his prices or wages without plunging his company into the red.
For years, employees continued to work in child care regardless, citing a passion for a rewarding profession.
But nationwide wage increases have given employees more bargaining power in all sectors. Daycare was not spared or was no exception. Local center owners say their $13-an-hour support staff couldn’t justify not quitting for higher pay. Unqualified support staff left for jobs at local restaurants and wineries, Fryer said.
“We are literally competing with McDonalds,” Fryer said.
The turnover also hit Pathways Preschool, a 42-place daycare center on Rose Street run by Brittni and Dan Fuller.
Fuller said the departures have led to a major rethink of how Pathways takes care of its teachers. In June 2020, the center hired a mental health consultant to work alongside the teachers. Their weekly visits help teachers process, as well as develop the resilience, compassion and patience needed for a demanding profession.
“It was just the feeling that we needed another layer of support, another pair of arms to surround these people who are raising a generation,” Fuller said. “It really pushed us to go in another direction.”
This week, Michigan’s Department of Education sent checks for $1,000 to daycare workers, and another round of disbursements could arrive in March, officials with the Michigan’s Office of Child Development and Care say. ministry. The money comes from the state budget, which has allocated funds for federal COVID relief programs like the US bailout.
Ministry of Education officials say they are eager to open more centres, especially in identified “childcare deserts”. In Lake County, for example, only 5 providers serve a population of over 640 daycare-aged children.
But without staff, the state fears pulling employees from centers that are already struggling to retain their existing staff.
“Our concern is with the sustainability of all providers, regardless of location,” said Lisa Brewer-Walraven, director of the Michigan Department of Education’s office of child development and care.
Fuller said she’s grateful for the state’s support so far and suggested that another way to keep the whole teaching population could be to emulate Pathways’ approach: by creating a model that supports teachers. teachers.
“What I would like to see happen is more of a model that focuses on teacher well-being and mental health,” Fuller said. “We spend thousands of dollars a year to set this up and it’s so beneficial. It’s really important to us. »
The Department of Licensing and Regulation says new child care centers are on the way. Four group centers, one group home and one family home opened in Grand Traverse County in 2021, according to department spokesman Jeffrey Watrick. 6 more have opened between Kalkaska, Antrim, Benzie and Leelanau counties, with more on the way.
“In addition, there are 12 child care providers in these counties that have applied and are working through the licensing process,” Watrick said.
As of 2018, the Record-Eagle reported that more than 74 vendors closed in Grand Traverse County alone.