GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you have a child, you may have already noticed that finding quality, licensed child care in West Michigan can be challenging.

The president of First Steps Kent said waitlists run anywhere from 50 to 300 children long, leaving parents and guardians searching for a provider. The situation in West Michigan is similar across the country.

“We have about 600 licensed child care providers in Kent County and it’s just not enough,” Jennifer Headley-Nordman, president of First Steps Kent, said.

Prior to the pandemic, Headley-Norman said there were concerns over child care. Then, during the pandemic, some child care providers had to close their doors permanently.

“In addition, we continue to have staffing challenges,” she said. “Even if a facility is operational, they don’t always have quality staff on hand to make sure that a classroom or the center can stay open.”

To try and help increase the number of staff, Headley-Norman explained that they are trying to elevate current staff while looking for additional workers. This can be challenging because the field is not always meeting the needs of its workers.

“These are our most precious little beings. We want to make sure that we have quality, dedicated child care workers but unfortunately, child care workers are some of the lowest-paid workers across the country. And because of that, staff don’t always have the wages or the benefits that they need, and for those reasons, you have fewer individuals wanting to go into that profession or stay in that profession,” she said.

Kent County is committed to making sure that this shortage is addressed, Headley-Norman said. First Steps Kent is looking at how it can acquire funding along with policy changes to help find the solution.

“I encourage parents to have conversations with your local politicians… to stress the importance of, we need to make sure that we have the fundings, the systems in place to make sure that we are providing the quality child care that we want because we know that is a critical stage that then connects to things like Kindergarten readiness,” she said.