TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Local parent Rebekah Davis said it’s hard to find childcare options right now.

“We were going to one daycare that actually ended up closing down because the owner’s son had asthma and she was so terrified of COVID that she decided just to close up,” Davis explained. “I went to another daycare, they had openings at the time and then they were trying to fill up so they were giving us a discount. Well, when that ended, I could no longer afford them.”

Davis said she’s happy with her daughter’s current daycare, but if anything were to change, she would have no idea if she could find another childcare that would work for her family.

Davis added that she has had several other parents inquire about her current daycare, but they’ll have to wait a while before they can get their children in.

“I’ll give them the phone number of the lady who owns mine, but she’s told me before that she has a waiting list until like this fall,” Davis said.

Waiting lists are also a factor at the new Deming Early Learning Center in Vigo County.

“At my site, we accommodate almost 300 kiddos and we still have a large waiting list,” Deming Early Learning Center Principal Ashley Bennett said. “Just having those sites to actually take children to is probably the biggest issue.”

When deciding where to send children for child care, parents are also facing a lack of choice in some parts of the Wabash Valley.

“I use the analogy of maybe stopping at McDonald’s when you’re traveling,” Director of ISU’s Early Childhood Education Center Holly Curtsinger said. “Even if it’s not your favorite food, you kind of know what to expect, you know? So we see that a lot of folks in need of child care, they’re looking for those franchise options, the kinder academies, kiddy cares, those types of programs that we don’t have here in Vigo County or in our region.”

Curtsinger added that family homes turned into daycares are fitting for some families, but not for others, similar to the way that centers that are more academic-focused rather than play-focused don’t work out for some families.

The factors of access, availability and choice all contribute to an area’s classification as a “child care desert”.

“Child care desert is defined as an area where the need for child care does not match the available capacity,” Curtsinger, who is also a co-chair of the United Way of the Wabash Valley’s Success by Six Council, explained.

This map depicts the amount of child care options in our region (via childcaredeserts.org)

Some portions of our local region fall under the child care desert category, but organizations like the United Way are finding ways to help.

“The Quality Childcare Initiative grant is a big one,” Curtsinger said. “Since 2017, about $170,000 have been invested in local childcare providers.”

In December, $100,000 was granted to the organization by Early Learning Indiana to help fund Highland Church Childcare Ministry on the east side of Terre Haute.

“It’s already been approved for three of the four classrooms that we are opening,” Owner and Director of Nurture with Nature: Highland Church Childcare Ministry Dawn Langer explained. “For an infant/toddler classroom, a two-year-old to three-year-old classroom and also a preschool classroom. Also, it will finish our whole entire outdoor classroom along with the fencing of that.”

Dawn Langer, who operates several Nurture with Nature child care centers in the area, will run the Highland Church location and said it will give kids a head start before entering kindergarten.

“It’s important for children to, to start getting in the childcare setting way before school just so that they can start developing those skills that they need,” Langer said. “Socially and academically school today, kindergarten is rather rigorous. There’s a lot of expectations by the time they reach kindergarten, so they need some of these early skills that they gain from early childhood.”

Kindergarten readiness, as Langer mentioned, has both academic and social components.

“Early learning is mostly focused on social emotional learning,” Bennett said. “Learning how to take turns, learning how to wait in line, get along with your friends, sit to be able to listen to a teacher or just stay in their space. That’s a huge deal when they get to school. If they don’t have those skills, they can’t learn the active academic skills because we have to go back and re-teach those.”

Local child care professionals acknowledge that not every family will be interested in ministry-based child care, but the funding options allow for more families to find a place to take their kids.

On My Way Pre-K grants are also helpful for families struggling to afford child care.

“This is a chance for people that may not have been able to afford a high quality program in the past to get their program paid for that has been, I mean, phenomenal this year because with people being out of work and just wherever you’re at in life, child care is expensive and high quality child care is very expensive,” Bennett said. “It’s expensive to run and it’s expensive to use, but these grants have really made it more of a level playing field for everyone.”

Finding people to staff these centers is another obstacle for child care professionals.

“We need high quality staff because, you know, we don’t let our babies be taken care of by just anyone,” Bennett said. “It should be high quality people that you know, are really invested and have their heart in early learning.”

Indiana State University is an asset in our area that organizations have partnered with to create more opportunities for early learning as well as education for people interested in child care-related careers.

Curtsinger said the benefits of programs like ISU’s Early Childhood Education Center are twofold, since it leads to a bigger talent pool to pull from and a stronger workforce in our region.

“These institutions of higher ed are looking for folks with specific skill sets to fill their job openings,” Curtsinger said. “And one of the best ways to recruit is to recruit the entire family. So if we have those support systems in place as a community, then our chances of recruiting the highest quality talent, you know, increases.”

You can find employment opportunities specific to ISU’s programming by visiting the university’s human resources page.