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Childcare gap creates issues for families, employers

Childcare gap creates issues for families, employers

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YORK – A childcare gap exists in York County, leaders say, which creates hardship for families and employers alike.

The gap in York County is substantial – the number has been determined to be 262 children who need childcare so parents can work but not enough local services exist.

This matter was discussed during a meeting of the York County Child Care Alliance, which is a task group under the auspices of the York County Health Coalition. The mission of the child care alliance (which is a group made up of child care providers, teachers and others working in childhood education/care programs) is to find gaps in needs and look for solutions. The coalition is financially supported by a statewide program called Communities for Kids.

Chandra Berlin, who leads the effort, said during a presentation that early childhood education and care is so important in the process of development.

“The gap here is 262 children under the age of 6 who are not being served,” Berlin said.

She added that the number of children under 6 with all available parents working is 801, locally.

“We have a lot of options, but just not enough,” she said. “Our goal is to bring forward, to the table, the conversation about childcare.”

She noted not only does lack of childcare sometimes prevent a person from being able to be employed, it also creates a situation in which a company cannot hire or retain a quality employee.

Berlin said all the childcare centers in this area are typically completely full.

“There is a lot of talk around town about businesses having a problem growing if there is a lack of employees due to childcare and to grow a community, there needs to be those young families who can live and work here,” she added.

“From an economic development prospective, a gap of 262 is terrifying for me,” said York County Development Corporation Executive Director Lisa Hurley. “That is keeping potential workers out of the workforce. And for those who are looking to get into the workforce, but can’t find childcare, that’s a big problem.”

Mike Feeken, an advisor for Nebraska First Five, spoke to the group. His agency is a public policy group which is part of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

“We change public policy by changing the conversation about the care and education of the state’s youngest kids,” Feeken explained. “Why is this essential to your community?”

Members of the audience noted kids are the future of the community.

“I think of childcare providers as entrepreneurs and business owners who enable our workforce,” Feeken said. “COVID really taught us childcare is essential. And if you want to attract people to your town, childhood programs are a part of that strategy. Unfulfilled jobs create obstacles for economic growth and costs for businesses to replace those employees.”

He added that childcare is considered affordable when it costs a family 7% of their income. He said the percentage in York County is 16.4. The state percentage is 16.

Some strategies suggested include businesses partnering for quality childcare – such as having their own childcare contracts or centers. “Inadequate childcare leads to absenteeism, turnover, job loss, people remaining part-time and reduction of hours.”

Another strategy is having tuition scholarships to help pay for childcare, exploring onsite or near-site options, creating supportive workplace policies and providing childcare stipends.

It was noted that some communities have utilized LB840 funds to create expansion packages for current daycare providers, in order to improve their workforce. This allowed these communities to create economic development funding for such projects, as early childhood infrastructure is now a qualified business.

Understanding the needs of parents and employers is key, he said, toward moving forward economically and in support of families in the community.

The conversation into the childcare gap will continue as the York County Child Care Alliance moves forward.

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