With long child care waitlists, state works to create more options


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is hosting child care fairs throughout the state as child care facilities report an increased demand for services.

Child care facilities in West Michigan say their services have always been in high demand but things have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some places are now reporting waitlists into 2022 or later.

The staff at Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center on Jefferson Street SE near Wealthy Street say they get calls constantly from parents looking for care but a number of factors made the last year difficult, including a dwindling workforce.

“People aren’t going into the field. The amount of debt, college debt, that people have to incur for a field that doesn’t pay very well is really difficult,” Starr Morgan with Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center said. “And these are people who are impacting children’s entire lives. Their experiences birth to 5 impact their entire lives.”

Morgan said that as a result, child care centers are being forced to waitlist children in need of care.

“There are way too few slots for infants and toddlers and since COVID hit, it’s even harder because of the workforce, because of the difficulty in keeping masks on children, so it’s just hard to enroll off of our waitlist,” Morgan said. “The infants on our waitlist probably won’t get a spot until 2023, maybe even 2024.”

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says it is seeing similar trends across the state.

“What we know from a 2020 study is that there was only one county in the U.P. that had enough child care spots for the needs of parents. So that means that there is a need across the state for providers,” said Emily Laidlaw with LARA.

LARA is now hosting child care access fairs throughout the state hoping to get more people into the field.

On Wednesday, several dozen people gathered at the Kent ISD Conference Center in Grand Rapids to learn about the process of being a day care or early childhood care provider. In the first half hour of the fair, more than 40 people had signed up.

“Parents can’t work unless they have reliable quality child care for their kids. So in order to get the economy back on track, continue the economy, we need to fill that demand,” Laidlaw said.

Providers say in the meantime, they are telling parents to join multiple waitlists.

“Get on our waitlist because by the time we are going through our waitlist, there may be families that have decided on other options as they had to find something,” Morgan said.

LARA plans to host more child care access fairs in the coming months. More information about how to sign up can be found on the LARA website.

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