Parents face child care crisis as daycare centers cut back hours


GRAND CHUTE, Wis. (WBAY) – Hundreds of families in the Fox Valley are scrambling to find alternative child care options after the owners of Play and Grow Learning Centers announced they’ll no longer be open on Fridays.

Nearly two weeks ago, signs went up at the four Play and Grow Learning Center locations around the Fox Valley announcing the change.

Play and Grow is just the latest daycare center to reduce its services. They are not alone in reducing their days of operation, and it’s a trend that doesn’t appear will be ending anytime soon.

According to Child Care Resource and Referral, a non-profit that works to improve access to child care, it all comes down to staffing.

”Unfortunately, it wasn’t the way we would have liked to have handled it, but unfortunately that was the situation we were in where we literally could not provide the care,” owner Jason Hodkiewicz said.

The owners have been in business for about 14 years. They employ more than 100 people while providing care for close to 500 kids.

Play and Grow Learning Centers needs to hire another 20 to 30 staff members to keep up with the teacher-to-student ratios in order to give current staff members a break.

“A lot of our staff for the last year-and-a-half or so we’ve been relying on overtime to be able to fill some of those shortages, and we’ve just gotten to the point where a lot of the teachers are just burnt out and we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t fill the shifts that we need to fill,” Hodkiewicz said.

These are positions that are increasingly difficult to fill. “We’re not only competing with other child care centers to find teachers, we’re also competing with other industries that are raising their rates. A lot of restaurants have increased their rate of pay drastically, and we’re competing with a lot of other things as well,” Hodkiewicz said.

We spoke with a Neenah mom, who asked not to be identified because the center where she sends her kids has already reduced the days it’s open. While she doesn’t want to take her kids out of that center, she could to forced to make that move.

By speaking out, she’s hoping the community will pay attention to the crisis families and child care centers are facing.

”I don’t think people understand the impact this has on the economy if you have all of these people who don’t have child care and all of a sudden have to quit their jobs. You’re talking about nurses that might have to leave their jobs, medical field that’s already short-staffed, or doctors, or factory workers when factories are already struggling to keep employees or hire employees. So, it’s just a domino effect for everybody,” this mom said.

Hodkiewicz added, ”The challenge right now is that we have waiting lists that go into the hundreds right now, and I think a lot of other child care centers are in the same boat where there’s just no space and a lot of them have either reduced the number of classrooms they have open because of the shortages or they’re not enrolling anybody else. We probably get about 20 phone calls a day for people looking for care, and there’s a huge demand, and it’s just a matter of having enough teachers to be able to provide the care that we offer.”

He said he hopes their staffing issue is only temporary.

Speaking with officials with Child Care Resource and Referral, they don’t see an easy fix to the problem, but they said it starts with community leaders getting involved, taking a public interest in this crisis, and working together to come up with plans to help families and daycare centers.

We’re told there are steps being taken at the state and local levels to help with free training for people who consider getting into child care, and places like Child Care Resource and Referral are offering seminars and help for people who are considering opening an in-home daycare.

Day care centers are cutting back hours because they don’t have the staffing.

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