KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Desi Skaggs says she’s been searching for a licensed childcare center since before her son was born.
“They told us there’s a huge waiting list, so we went and toured the places,” she said.
She had no idea the joys of being a parent would also be met with the fight to find childcare. Skaggs still hasn’t located daytime care for her son Weston, who just celebrated his first birthday.
“I would just stay up and just go to work a 12-hour shift, and then come home and watch him, and it was exhausting,” Skaggs said.
The first-time Kansas City mom is not alone.
Thousands of parents across Missouri are stuck in a never ending struggle to secure childcare so they can work.
Data from Child Care Aware of Missouri shows nearly 93% of children under the age of 6 have working parents that require child care in the state.
In Jackson County, 95% of children under the age of 6 require child care.
“It’s expensive,” Skaggs said. “It’s really ridiculously expensive.”
The average monthly cost for full-time child care in the nation is roughly $629, but in Jackson County, it’s $666, roughly 6% higher than the national average.
“Families are typically younger with children in childcare,” Robin Phillips, CEO of Child Care Aware of Missouri, said. “Their liquidity is less but they’re paying more, and these childcare businesses are truly surviving off either child care subsidy or private pay.”
Phillips said if parents can’t find childcare, it may be linked to the fact that facilities are understaffed due to their own employees also being unable to locate child care to come to work.
She said the cost of care and cost to pay workers is a multi-faceted battle.
“We have so many employers and manufacturers that can’t get people to work and most of the time it’s because people are citing, ‘They don’t have access to childcare or it doesn’t make sense for both parents to work.’” Phillips said.
Phillips said childcare deserts, or counties that have no childcare of three times as many children who have working parents, were further fragmented and exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a professional workforce that we’re talking about and they are often undervalued and overlooked,” she said.
That’s why in 2021, Myron and Penny McCant said they decided to expand their 24-hour child care facility, KD Academy, to 10,000 square feet to help meet demand.
“There was always a high demand for childcare and so even prior to the pandemic, we had over 400 children on the waiting list,” Myron said.
Myron said the childcare workforce took a major blow after COVID, with many employees dying from illness, moving to different industries entirely or choosing to retire.
“We have families that come as far as Peculiar, Missouri,” Myron, owner of KD Academy, said. “The sheriff’s department drives one hour to drop their children.”
Phillips says Missouri lawmakers are finally beginning to notice the problem.
“So, there’s been about $78 million that has been added into the budget, the state budget, to increase those subsidy rates,” she said. “That will be a good thing.”
She said there are also three new childcare tax credits being proposed, which would provide relief for families, business and bring together more public and private partnerships.
“There has been 56 million dollars allocated to begin expanding pre-kindergarten options for all low-income Missouri children.” Phillps said.
All of these measures are solutions for correcting a long-underfunded and fragmented child care system, Phillips said.
“We’re finally starting to make some baby steps forward in Missouri,” she said.
But it’s unfortunately not much for families who need help right now.
“In a perfect world, that would be the solution, is every job have a little in-home daycare for the workers,” Skaggs said. “That would be the solution.”
Parents in need of child care resources can reach out to Child Care Aware of Missouri at 866-528-2634 for assistance.
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They provide education for first time parents about what questions they should ask when interviewing for child care, as well as providing a list of affordable daycare locations available for new clients.
“We have been talking about how childcare and economic recovery and economic stability go hand-in-hand and I think now more and more people realize,” Phillips said.