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Daycare dilemma reaches crisis level in northern Michigan

Daycare dilemma reaches crisis level in Northern Michigan

NORTHERN MICHIGAN, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- Having a baby should be one of the happiest times of a parent’s life, but for young parents who have to return to work, finding childcare is a challenge.

Experts say childcare availability in many northern Michigan communities is at a crisis level because of affordability issues for parents and providers.

“As soon as we found out we were pregnant, I started calling around and getting on wait lists then,” said expecting mother seeking childcare, Preetha Hartzler. “You have to start looking right when you get pregnant. I've heard waitlists as long as 100 to 200. I know one that I’m on is 100 babies ahead of us. That’s kind of crazy.”

“I’ve heard stories that families are planning when to have their next child based on when their childcare provider will have an opening,” said Mary Manner, Great Start Collaborative coordinator.

Manner is a childcare expert who runs Great Start Collaborative, a group that works in five northern Michigan counties to ensure quality childcare for families.

“We actually have plenty of preschool opportunity for families, but for families with young children, so birth to age 3, it's really tough to find,” said Manner.

One of the challenges of providing infant care is the amount of attention the babies need and state regulations require one care giver for every four babies, according to Manner.

In order to recruit and keep more childcare givers, pay has to rise.

“People who are caring for children are earning less than people who are animal technicians,” said Manner. “We are requiring more education on the part of people who do early care and education, and that puts the pressure on people who are not making very much money.”

State regulations not only affect childcare centers, but group and home based providers too.

According to Manner, the regulations are so strict, many home based providers can’t afford the costs.

Teddy Bear Daycare, a popular childcare center in Grand Traverse County, recently expanded their infant program and knows firsthand the high cost of running a center.

“We are not getting rich, but we are getting the love and the passion that we need for what we do,” said Anna Fryer, Teddy Bear Daycare co-owner. “The startup cost for infant care is a lot more as well because $250 to $300 per crib, high chairs, all of the other equipment in addition to the toys, that's a pretty high need.”

Community members and the FUSE group with Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is also looking into the issue.

One idea they have is asking businesses to provide their own childcare program for their employees, but many companies say the cost is too high and regulations are too strict.

Some businesses have made it work though, including Munson Healthcare, but even they are experiencing waitlists, more than 200 babies long.

“We have families who will contact us before they tell their families they are pregnant just to secure that spot,” said Brigid Wilson, manager of Munson Healthcare Childcare Services. “That's the right way to go about it because it gives you a decent chance of getting in.”

Back to the problem, Manner says there are solutions out there.

“There is cash available and there are funds available to support families and we should be accessing them and getting them, families, help,” said Manner. “Other states are doing a much better job of gathering, helping families afford and access quality care. We could do a lot better.”

Meanwhile Preetha Hartzler and hundreds of other mothers in northern Michigan just hope things work out.

“The next thing I do is just wait to hear back and hopefully we hear something by the time our baby comes,” said Hartzler.

While some businesses say it is too expensive to start their own child care program for employees, businesses are working together to come up with solutions.

Some businesses also offer wellness programs with classes for new parents, as well as graduated return-to-work hours to ease the transition of new parents coming back to work.

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