‘We need more child care’: Parents say there are not enough open spots in day care

Parents and childcare specialists across the U.P. echo the same sentiment: there are simply not enough open spots for the children who need care.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:36 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Finding quality and affordable child care is a challenge facing people across the nation, but parents in the U.P. are looking for solutions.

Shilpa Johbalia is a mother of three. When she moved to Marquette in 2019, she realized child care would be a challenge.

“When I came to Marquette, I was really shocked at how little child care options there are for families. I was even more surprised that NMU didn’t have an early childhood education center,” said Johbalia.

After meeting Rachel May, a mother and associate professor at NMU, they realized the problem was not unique.

“I had been struggling to find adequate child care since my child was just an infant. We were on a year-long waitlist, and I was calling centers every week to see if there were spaces available. I didn’t understand that this was a U.P.-wide and nationwide problem,” said May.

Parents and child care specialists across the U.P. echo the same sentiment: there are simply not enough open spots for the children who need care.

Copper Country Great Start Collaborative says there are 1,300 zero to five-year-olds with parents in the Houghton area workforce. Only 300 of those children have year-round care.

“I’ve talked to families, I’ve talked to employers, I’ve talked to professors and community members, and they’re all saying the same thing—we need more child care,” said Iola Brubaker, the director of Copper Country Great Start Collaborative.

So what are communities doing to address the problem? Both May and Jhobalia decided to take action.

“When Rachel and I became friends and started talking about this problem that was affecting pretty much all of the families that we’re friends with, we decided that we should organize and see if Northern could help us get something going,” said Johbalia.

“Our vision was that it would be an environmentally focused early childhood education center, so we worked with people in EEGs,” said May.

That’s NMU’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences. Together, Jhobalia and May, alongside NMU, started a child care program at the university.

May and Jhobalia also spearheaded the advocacy for an allocation of Marquette County’s ARPA funds for child care.

The Board of Commissioners listened and allocated $200,000. $25,000 of that went to the Tiny Toes Daycare Center in Ishpeming, $25,000 went to MARESA to benefit the Hematyke Child Care and Education Center in Ishpeming and $50,000 to the Educational Partnership in the Community, based in Marquette. The Childcare Coalition of Marquette County, a partnership between Lake Superior Community Partnership and the Community Foundation of Marquette County, received the other $100,000.

Using that, the organization has launched its Spark program pilot. This program helps people start new home-based child care facilities.

“So we’ll do that through a series of weekly classes that folks will do, as well as some online coursework. They’ll be exposed to experts. They’ll actually also be attached to mentors who are already running child care businesses in their homes,” said Christopher Germain, the executive director of Lake Superior Community Partnership.

In the Copper Country, Houghton County designated $200,000 from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support child care needs within the County.

County Chairman Tom Tikkanen says Houghton County is growing, jobs are available, and to fill those jobs, parents need a reliable place to send their children.

“There are a lot of quality jobs available so it’s imperative, not only from the standpoint of what’s best for our children - our greatest resource, but also for the sake of stabilizing and growing our local economy,” said Tikkanen.

In Delta County, while no ARPA funds were designated for child care, the Delta County Great Start Collaborative is working to address provider shortages.

“[We are] really helping to identify gaps in the community and help find ways to collaborate with all the different agencies to fill them, also, ways to just partner and strengthen the system. We really want to make sure families are connecting to what they need, and we do know that child care has been a huge priority in our area,” said Laurie Mold, the assistant director of Delta County Great Start Collaborative.

Mold also says Delta County Great Start has increased available slots for children needing care by more than 36.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Agency says it is also helping new providers obtain licenses.