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Finding childcare a challenge in North Dakota oil patch

WILLISTON, N.D. — Finding a job in the Williston area can be easy, but finding quality childcare when it’s time to go to work is proving to be a challenge for many parents.

Many licensed childcare centers are full, and expensive. Working mothers, in particular, often find that they are barely earning enough to cover the cost of childcare.

Staffing issues for childcare centers seem to be at the root of the problem, some say. In order to retain employees, childcare facilities must offer competitive wages, and respond by hiring fewer people and accepting fewer kids, especially babies. The expense of running a childcare center, combined with the relative shortage of licensed providers in Williston, means pricey tuitions and long waiting lists.

Cesily Neher and Heather Richardson experienced the pinch firsthand after becoming moms for the first time.

Both started working after the birth of their first baby, but found that financially, they were barely breaking even.

Neher, 25, went back to work at the end of last year when her son was 8 months old. It was tough finding a daycare spot; the waiting lists were so long that “some people were waiting for a year to get in.”

Then, the expense started to become an issue. Three months after she started working, she made the decision to quit and stay home with her son.

“I wasn’t having a lot left over to make it worth it,” Neher told the Williston Herald. “Places here are so full they can charge whatever they want.”

Richardson, 26, who worked as a nurse in Dickinson before she moved to Williston earlier this year, has two young boys and another baby on the way.

She said the cost of putting multiple children in a quality daycare essentially canceled out her income.

“When I had my first kid, it was fine, when I had two, I would be spending more in childcare than I’d be bringing home,” she said.

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Child Aware of North Dakota reports that in more than 60 percent of families in Williams County with kids younger than 13, both parents are working. That means nearly 3,000 kids are in need of some type of childcare. Currently, there are about 1,150 spots in licensed childcare programs available in Williams County.

That’s enough space to meet roughly 38 percent of the demand, but experts say there should be licensed childcare spots for at least 50 percent of the children here, with the assumption that family or friends will care for the other half.

In Williston, the strain stems in part from the struggle childcare centers face to pay employees competitive salaries with benefits.

“Unfortunately, they go to other fields,” said Kristi Asendorf, parent services manager for North Dakota Child Care Resources and Referral. “There are many places that have rooms that they can’t use because they don’t have the staff.”

There are 24 licensed day care facilities ranging from small in-home to large centers in Williston, according to Kathleen Molland, a social worker at Williams County Social Services.

“We’re actively working on licensing a few more, which is really good, but it is not enough,” she said. “People are having a very difficult time finding childcare, especially childcare for infants.”

According to data collected by Child Aware of North Dakota, the number of kids in Williams County age 2 and under — more than 1,100 — far outweighs the number of 3-5-year-olds. But it’s harder to find care for very young children than it is for older ones. State teacher/child ratios require one caregiver for every four babies, one caregiver for every five toddlers up to age 2, and one caregiver for every seven 3-year-olds. Older age groups require less staff — licensed centers need only provide one caregiver for every 20 6-12-year-olds.

In other words, the younger the child, the more staff are required per classroom, posing a steep expense for facilities, along with the risk of high employee turnover.

Some facilities in Williston deal with the risk by simply not accepting babies. “We only care for kids that are 3 or older,” Staci Ekblad, the owner of Ekblad Development Center, said.

She estimates that she takes nearly a dozen calls a day from parents looking for childcare for very young children, but her decision to limit the age groups she accepts ultimately allows the center to provide better care for her students.

“We do not want to have turnover with our teachers,” she said. “Obviously the children come to our facility for a large portion of their day, and having turnover can cause turmoil with them.”

Outsized rents and building costs in Williston are adding to the problem by making it hard for new centers to open.

The cost of employees’ salaries, on top of paying rent for a facility or absorbing the cost of a new building, is in many cases simply too high to foresee making a profit without charging families exorbitant rates.

Ronica O’Dwyer, a developer and mother of three in Williston, had plans to open a daycare in the city, but scrapped them when she calculated the costs that were involved. She cited the state’s mandatory child to teacher ratio as another obstacle standing in the way of more providers opening daycare centers.

“The wages that you have to pay in Williston are so much higher than the national average, you almost have to price yourself out of being affordable. It’s just a vicious cycle,” O’Dwyer said.

Information from: Williston Herald, http://www.willistonherald.com

This article was written by ELIZABETH HACKENBURG from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

2 comments

  1. I would like to do child care I am a grandmother type