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Entering the childcare desert

Until recently, I had never heard the term “childcare desert,” but they do exist and they’re growing. A childcare desert exists when the number of children under 5 years of age exceeds the number of daycare slots available for them by a ratio of at least 3:1.

Fifty-one percent of the US population lives in a childcare desert. More than half of Americans live in a place where there is not enough childcare to go around. This makes a major difference for people who depend upon daycare to attend work and school.

To make matters worse, during the pandemic, more than 100,000 childcare workers exited the game. At the same time women are returning to work in large numbers, the daycare system is collapsing. States will need to increase the number of childcare workers they’re producing. And guess where they’ll turn?

Yes, they’ll turn to places like Washtenaw Community College to meet that goal. And all this occurs just as WCC’s Children’s Center fell victim to what amounts to administrative arson.

Childcare is a critical element of the economic recovery. The nearly three million women who left their jobs in 2020 did so because they could not manage work and childcare simultaneously. They will need assistance with childcare in their return to work. But that help won’t be coming from WCC. WCC’s replacement plan for providing childcare is absurd. In most cases, childcare isn’t metered, and drop-in care is non-existent.

Managing the childcare desert

On a good day, parents compete to get a daycare space of any sort. The number of care providers is dwindling, so when a daycare center closes, its like a little bomb going off. With the number of providers exiting the industry, parents who need care services just a few hours per day can be pretty much out of luck. Why should a care center take on a child for a few hours per day or week when it can just as easily pick a family from their waiting list who will commit to a long-term, full-time or half-time arrangement?

Daycare licensing rules, the age of the child and the size of the facility rigidly determine the number of staff required to provide care at any given time. When the requisite number of staffers are unavailable, the daycare must refuse children they would otherwise have the space to supervise. These staffing rules make offering drop-in daycare hard, especially when there is a shortage of licensed childcare professionals.

Although eliminating on-campus childcare may have been expedient, this was exactly the wrong time to pull this move. It helps only the WCC Administration and makes finding care more difficult at an already difficult time.

It’s ironic that WCC bends over backwards to secure the summer training programs of out-of-state trade unions and offers specially discounted tuition rates non-resident online-only students, but creates a childcare desert in the community that provides the majority of its funding. What’s worse, our elected Trustees refuse to hold the Administration to account for this.

Photo Credit: Sergey Pesterev , via Flickr