County facing ‘crisis-level’ lack of infant care | TheUnion.com

County facing ‘crisis-level’ lack of infant care

Mackenzie Myers
Mountain Democrat

There's a reason parents are on waitlists across El Dorado County for infant child care: nearly 3,100 babies are vying for 265 spots, thanks to a shortage of space and caretakers.

The data came from the El Dorado County Early Care and Education Planning Council's annual update before the Board of Supervisors. But this year's presentation was underscored by the shortage of infant care which council coordinator Elizabeth Blakemore said has become "crisis-level."

A perfect storm

The shortage stems from several factors, according to Blakemore: an improved economy means more parents are working full-time. Industry standards mandate one child care provider can only handle three to four infants at once. An aging population means many at-home caretakers — roughly 30 percent within El Dorado County — are no longer in business. Providers face tougher licensing requirements for low pay. And the work — involving constant supervision and attention — isn't for everyone.

"It's hard work," Blakemore said. "They don't get the respect they want and they don't get the compensation they want. Many of these jobs are in competition with In-N-Out up the street."

The industry's low profit margin stems from an expensive operation. Between formula, diapers, food, replacing toys and other consumable items, plus staffing costs and overhead, it can be challenging to make ends meet.

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The waiting game

Cost is an additional challenge for parents, as well. Even when openings are available, child care often eats up 20 to 50 percent of county families' incomes, Blakemore said.

Jayme Cant, a mother of two from Cameron Park, receives assistance with her child care costs but said she would pay about $2,000 a month otherwise for both her kids. Her 3-year-old son stays at Happy Kids during the day, but Kant works nights because there isn't an opening for her infant daughter.

"Trying to find daycare and the amount of money that people have to pay for people to watch their kids for a few hours, that's a lot of money," Cant said. "It all adds up."

According to Trish Roberts with Happy Kids Child Care Center in Shingle Springs, the infant room has one caretaker who supervises up to three children at a time. Roberts said 60 parents were on the waitlist and the next spot will likely open up a year from now.

"Some (parents) are in shock, some aren't interested anymore and some get on the list because they know there's not many other options," Roberts said, adding that a quarter of those on the waitlist have signed up a child they're still expecting.

It takes a village

Blakemore and her team started looking at potential solutions last September when they'd sifted through the data.

While Blakemore acknowledged some parts of the state are passing ballot measures and creating taxes to help ease the financial burdens of child care, she's working with Choices for Children, a resource and advocacy group, to see what can be done.

One campaign has encouraged small child care centers to expand their operations, while a second encourages stay-at-home parents to take on an extra child or two from another parent wishing to return to work.

According to Rene Line with Choices for Children, there hasn't been any commitment from parents willing to provide care for another child, but there has been increased interest.

Line said compensation would be worked out between parents, except in cases when care is subsidized for low-income families. Providers would need CPR, first aid training and a background check to be on the group's referral list.

Since these qualifications and the licensing process takes two to three months, Line expects the campaign will need some time to gain traction.

"We're not expecting results for a few months, but there's an increase in interest, an increase in phone calls which gives us hope," Line said.

The long run

Blakemore said the issue is up against a social perspective that parents and families are responsible for finding their own child care and that if parents can't afford children, they shouldn't have them.

But with an aging demographic, Blakemore said children and young families are necessary to maintain the area's economic future, especially if residents want their own children to come back and raise a family here someday.

Businesses won't want to settle in an area where potential employees may have to move away or may not be able to work because they're taking care of children, she pointed out.

"When children are in full-time care, parents are generally working," she said. "When parents have reliable childcare, they're more reliable employees and more productive employees."

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