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Montana parents struggle as facilities close nationwide due to staffing shortage

Posted at 8:49 AM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 12:31:19-04

BOZEMAN - Across the country, there is a growing child care crisis. It's a crisis made worse by the pandemicand stagnant wages.

According to a Harvard Business Review Survey, nearly two-thirds of parents have had trouble finding child care in the pandemic, especially Black and Brown families.

Meanwhile, child care facilities nationwide are reporting they can't find or retain staff.

Cindy Moats never imagined that after more than 35 years in business, she would be forced to close her daycare which serves around 100 kids in Billings.

"It's the most devastating decision I have ever had to make in my life," Moats told CBS News' Meg Oliver.

Before the pandemic, Moats had around 35 to 40 employees. She is now down to 15 employees, which she said is not enough to stay open.

"I can only do so much when I can't get the workforce. I can't do this job to my expectation or anyone's expectation without a workforce," said Moats.

A survey from The National Association for the Education of Young Children found four in five daycares nationwide are understaffed. Additionally, 78% of those surveyed said low wages are the main reason it's hard to recruit new employees.

One mother described to Oliver how difficult it is for her to find affordable child care.

"If you don't have a job, then you can't afford to have child care while you're looking for one. If you get a job, you have to have child care almost immediately so that you can start. But there aren't any spaces available," Sarah Smith said.

Smith works at Explorer Academy in Bozeman. Her 3-year-old daughter attends daycare there, so in return, Smith gets child care for about 30% of the usual cost. She said that child care costs her two-thirds of her rent.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, parents of children under 5-years-old pay on average around $10,000 a year for child care. Families currently need to devote about 13% of their income to child care, a number the U.S. Treasury considers unaffordable for most.

Smith is very grateful for her job, where her salary is around double the average for daycare workers in the state. But she has a master's degree and is a teacher by trade — a career she's put on hold to afford child care.

In Bozeman, Smith is qualified to make between $65,000 - $70,000. Instead, Smith said she makes $40,000.

Jessica Dehn — the owner of Explorer Academy — is committed to staying open, which means she's had to raise the price she charges families. To retain staff, she has to pay them competitively.

"What kind of competition are you facing in terms of salaries out there right now?" Oliver asked.

"Well, it's very terrifying to have a weekend because often my staff will go to a social event and just get offered five dollars more an hour," Dehn replied.

"What kind of jobs are they leaving for?" Oliver asked.

"Honestly, a few have left to work in marijuana, grow places. That kind of breaks my heart because I'm like, I could really use their skills and their love and their passion with children and the idea of that picking buds, this kind of bums me out a lot," Dehn said.

Chastity Lord, the president and CEO of Jerimiah Program, said child care is a social justice, economic, and community issue. Jeremiah Program helps disrupt poverty by supporting single moms and their children.

"90% of child care workers are women, 50% of those are women of color, their average pay is $12 an hour. The average pay for someone literally serving coffee in this country is $15 an hour. You are having people who sit at the nexus of child development in this country, who are literally working poor," Lord said.

Moats is now closing Discovery Daycare & Preschool at the end of the month.

"It's really hard to look at a parent and know they don't have anywhere to take their kids. And they still have to go to work," Moats said.

Megan Strickland is one of those parents. She attended this daycare as a child, and now her 2-year-old daughter goes there. "We don't have a plan yet," she said. "I don't know what we will do. I have to stay working. That's not an option for our family."

Strickland is a nurse and pregnant with her second child. She said she is devastated by the daycare's closing. "I don't know what has to change, but something has to change, something has to give at some point," she said.