How a lack of infant-toddler childcare is preventing Michiana parents from working

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:25 PM EDT
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KOSCIUSKO COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - 16 News Now Investigates how a lack of infant-toddler care nationwide is impacting families right here in Michiana. The issue also affects businesses who may be unable to retain parents that can’t find childcare while they’re at work.

There are three obstacles preventing families from sending their child to daycare—cost, concerns over safety, or just a lack of provider availability. U.S. census data from April and May of last year show 19% of families across the country deal with at least one of these roadblocks. In Warsaw, not only are employers stepping up to help, but there are also plans to increase the number of childcare providers in the field.

Kosciusko County is one of many areas nationwide struggling to connect families with childcare, with a current shortage of 1,500 childcare spots.

“We are known as a childcare desert like many counties in Indiana, which means there’s only one seat for every three children that need care,” explains Sherry Searles, the director for childcare and early learning coalition Launchpad. The organization was created to help solve the childcare crisis in Kosciusko County.

Searles tells 16 Investigates a lack of provider availability isn’t the only challenge they face, affordability is also an obstacle.

“The average cost of childcare in Indiana is equivalent to the cost of a first year of a community college. And this is at a time where parents may not necessarily be at their highest earning potential when their children are young,” she says.

In 2021, the average cost for a family looking for family childcare services in Indiana was $7,288 for toddlers and $7,762 for infants. When looking at center-based childcare in the Hoosier state, the prices go even higher. The average in 2021 was $10,315 for a toddler and $11,544 for an infant, according to data from Child Care Aware of America.

Parents aren’t the only ones affected by being in a childcare desert. Sherry Searles with Launchpad tells us it hurts employers too.

“We not only hear from families, but we hear from businesses that can’t retain their workforce, can’t attract new talent, and then families who want to work, but then don’t have childcare so they can work,” she says.

A study by ReadyNation found the nation’s infant-toddler childcare crisis now costs $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue every year. That’s an impact on families, businesses and taxpayers that has more than doubled since 2018. Problems with childcare also reduce how much time parents spend at work-- nearly half of parents have reduced their hours, 26% reported quitting a job due to childcare issues, and 23% say they were fired over it.

While all of this data may sound daunting, there has been some progress in Kosciusko County.

“When Launchpad started its work in 2018, we had a need for about 2,000 childcare seats. We are celebrating right now that we have just reached 500 new seats in the last four years,” explains Searles.

Many of those seats have come from school districts, with all four in the county now making infant-toddler care available for their own staff and teachers. One of the people using this service is Megan Dinse, an educator with Warsaw Community Schools.

“My daughter, before she was even born, was literally the first person on the list to be part of the daycare,” Dinse says.

Her classroom is just up the stairs from where her two children attend daycare.

“It’s convenient and it gives me a sense of comfort that they’re close literally and that anytime I could just pop down here and peek in if I needed to. Or if they get sick, sometimes they’ll call, ‘hey you know your daughter has a fever and you have to take her home’. Well, I’m right here,” Dinse explains.

She tells 16 Investigates that without the daycare option available to teachers in her school district, she isn’t sure if she’d be able to continue working.

“I would have to reconsider you know, do I need to stay home with them until they’re able to go to school? So thankfully it is not something I’ve had to think about because I’m not really sure what i would do.”

The daycare program at Warsaw Community Schools also gives high school students the opportunity to gain experience in early childhood education to find out if the field is right for them.

“Those teenagers get to be in the classrooms with our kids learning as part of their curriculum and it’s really fun for me because i have several of my own students who are in the classroom with my kids,” says Dinse. “I think it’s also really helpful, it’s easy i think for teenagers to say ‘oh kids are so cute i want to go into daycare or be a teacher’ but then you get in the setting with kids and sometimes they learn that they don’t want to do that for the rest of their lives. And it’s better to learn that now than when they get out of high school. And then some of them do love it and they’re like ‘oh that’s definitely what i want to continue doing’.”

This also helps address another issue in this daycare dilemma—a shortage of early childhood educators.

“We love to see these school programs that are incorporating high school students into the classroom and that can really help guide them on a path to working in the field of early childhood,” says Searles. “We have a huge need for that in our county so we’d love to get more folks into the field.”

Not only is there a need for this work, but it’s especially important.

“A child’s brain is 80% developed by the time they’re three years old. So when we’re talking about infant-toddler care, this isn’t babysitting this isn’t daycare, this is early childhood education,” Searles explains.

The benefits of providing an early childhood education pathway at Warsaw Community High School not only brings hope for the future of the community, but also plenty of smiles.

“The joy that little kids can bring to teenagers, maybe not all of them, but sometimes just having the teenagers seeing them, I know it brightens their day,” Dinse says.

The state of Indiana has a number of voucher programs available for families having a hard time affording early childhood education. They also have an online child care finder to help parents locate providers near them.

You can learn more about that by visiting then click on “find child care”.