The Hillsdale County Great Start Col­lab­o­rative, a group of com­munity leaders and parents who work to improve early childcare, addressed he childcare crisis in Hillsdale County. | Facebook

The Hillsdale County Great Start Col­lab­o­rative, a group of com­munity leaders and parents who work to improve early childcare, addressed the childcare crisis in Hillsdale County on Feb. 6.

Kristy Wood, a member of the Child Care Network, con­tinued by addressing the county’s crisis in par­ticular. There are only seven licensed facil­ities in Hillsdale, she said, and cur­rently, none can take any more infants. In total, there are only eight spots for infants in licensed facil­ities throughout Hillsdale County.

Ste­fanie Rathburn, the director of the Great Start Col­lab­o­rative, spoke about the group’s current mission.

“We want to assure a coor­di­nated system of com­munity resources to assist all Hillsdale County fam­ilies in pro­viding a great start for their children pre­natal through third grade,” she said.

According to Rathburn, the col­lab­o­rative is com­mitted to making sure Hillsdale County’s children stay on track from birth to third grade.

Through pre­sen­ta­tions and panel dis­cus­sions, Rathburn said the col­lab­o­rative also seeks to educate the com­munity on solu­tions to the childcare crisis.

Wood said the col­lab­o­rative has issued two grants for in-home childcare startups and already has four more in the works.

Applying for a childcare facility can be expensive for those who want to start a business, and that’s a big reason why many people don’t start one, according to Wood. In total, after dif­ferent inspec­tions, it can cost up to $350 per applicant. The Great Start Col­lab­o­rative helps with costs for those who apply.

Because of Hillsdale’s lack of facil­ities, many parents have to drive far to meet their child’s needs. Wood said one parent the col­lab­o­rative worked with, located in Hillsdale County, had to drive 60 minutes every day to drop off and pick up her children and return home after work.

Sara Clark talked about her daughter’s dif­fi­culty in finding a childcare facility.

After her daughter became pregnant, she asked Clark for help. Clark said she thought it would be easy until she started calling facil­ities in Hillsdale County. She talked to the entire list of approved busi­nesses and not one, according to Clark, had room for her daughter’s newborn. She could be placed on a waitlist that could take up to a year.

“I didn’t under­stand the depth of the problem,” Clark said. “There’s not enough care in this county.”

Of the existing facil­ities, many are cen­tered in the larger cities. Each of the seven ded­i­cated facil­ities in the county are located in Hillsdale, Jonesville, Litch­field, and Reading, leaving a gap for those in smaller towns.

The group also covered some broader data defining the issue. In Hillsdale County, there are 983 total spots for children ages 0 – 5 in childcare facil­ities. There are, however, more than 3,000 children that age in Hillsdale County.

Besides helping to license in-home startups, the Great Start Col­lab­o­rative also encourages busi­nesses to work with parents on changing schedules and part-time hours so they could use the existing childcare to their advantage.

Rathburn said com­panies have an interest in helping their employees with childcare. When an employee stresses about the issue, their per­for­mance declines, and they often take sick days to watch their child.

A few attendees offered cre­ative solu­tions. One sug­gested that busi­nesses located in indus­trial parks get together to start a facility located very close to their buildings. This would avoid many trans­portation dif­fi­culties that parents cur­rently have to deal with when dropping off their children at a facility.

Rathburn con­cluded with a call to action. Everyone should be inter­ested in the well-being of Hillsdale County’s children, she said, and talking about the issue in forums like this is the first step in solving the problem.