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.