The Learn and Play Daycare center in Black River Falls will be closing their doors Friday, which has forced several families in Jackson County to find new childcare options. The daycare provided a two week notice to parents on July 17.
The closing is expected to displace 44 children under the age of five.
Rose Caulum, a parent from Melrose that sends her children to daycare at the center, said that many daycare centers in the area currently have a six month waiting period before they accept more children.
“I am blessed that I have a friend in town here that is able to take vacation from her job and we will have to pay her to watch our kids so we can get into a childcare facility in Galesville,” Caulum said, further explaining that her family is lucky because they were already in the process of moving centers because of changes in employment.
While her kids went to the Learn and Play Daycare, Caulum said she was happy with the service they provided, “When it is running, the teachers have been very wonderful to work with. They were great with my daughters. Cindy, she runs the daycare. She cares a lot about the children. It has been a wonderful experience.”
Tammy Overlien, the president of the board for the daycare, has been involved with the daycare in some way for more than 21 years, “We are very sad that we have to do this. We are still providing quality care for the children that are there and we have tried to be a quality provider over the years. Costs have just become too much. There are guidelines that we have to abide by and everything has just become too much for what we are able to bring in with the children that we have.”
Overlien said the main reason they are closing the doors is because they have a staffing shortage, “Our wages are low and they can go other places in Jackson County to get better wages and benefits.”
Cindy McCormick, the administrator for the daycare, also said, “We have struggled to find ‘qualified’ staff by state standards and have been working to find these employees.”
Caulum adds that there are a lot of certifications employees of daycares have to go through, “In general, the problem is that there is a shortage of certified employees who are willing to work in childcare centers because they frankly are not able to pay the amount of money that attracts people for long-term employment. A lot of that has to do with state-mandated requirements. There are a lot of restrictions that are put on centers that are not directly benefiting children, but are increasing the costs.”
Many foster parents in Jackson County also use the Learn and Play Daycare, which has caused a lot of issues for Child Protective Services.
“Learn and Play is one of the main daycares in Jackson County and we have children in foster care who need daycare services while the foster parents works. It is difficult because we use Wisconsin Shares, which is the childcare assistance administered by the state through the Western Region for Economic Assistance Consortium. In order to receive Wisconsin Shares financial assistance, it has to be a verified licensed provider. So as one of main licensed centers in Jackson County, we are kind of scrambling to find a placement for daycare for our kids in out-of-home care,” said Dan Williams, Jackson County DHHS children and families division manager.
Williams also said that daycare is a big stressor for families and can be a significant barrier to employment.
“Losing Learn-n-Play is going to be a significant loss. The children’s families receiving Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy are not easily going to find replacement regulated care. Maybe there will be an influx in interest in certification and licensing with the loss. It is not an easy process, but starting a business is never an easy process,” Kathy Rumsey of Jackson County DHHS-Public Health said.
Learn and Play Daycare did face financial hardships in December 2015 when parents received a phone call from the owner that the daycare would be closing in two weeks, but parents were told before the two weeks were up that the daycare would instead remain open.
Overlien admits that the Learn and Play Daycare is very near and dear to her heart and that she is very sad that it is closing, “We appreciate all of the parents and children we have had over the years.”
The public health office said that if anyone is interested in becoming a certified child care provider to help with the daycare shortage in the county or who may be interested in more information can contact Rumsey at 715-284-4301 ext. 375.