Daycare staffing issues across the state made worse by restrictions and unemployment benefit competition

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 12:33 AM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) -

Last year when school went virtual and daycares closed their doors, parents tried to take care of their kids while carrying out professional duties at home. Since then, staffing daycares has become even more of a concern across the state.

According to officials, staffing shortages in childcare facilities in Wyoming have been an ongoing problem, but restrictions may have compounded how hard it is to hire and retain employees.

“In August I probably lost five staff. It’s just been at least one or two a month since then. What’s difficult is you’re not getting anybody applying for positions either,” stated Colette Venzor, Director of Smart Start Quality Childcare in Riverton.

Roxanne O’Connor, Support Services Senior Administrator with DFS, stated “This is more anecdotal than it is data driven, but you look at the added pressures that Covid-19 has put on our childcare facilities in regards to additional sanitation, in regards to long periods of time where you’re having to wear masks.” She added that trying to keep children who are naturally social creatures, separated into cohort groups, has also been a challenge for providers and educators.

A Daycare director in Riverton said a huge challenge was abiding by DFS, state, and federal regulations at the same time when Covid hit. An in home registered childcare provider in Riverton said it’s become very difficult finding substitutes for her childcare as well.

“We put out kind of an SOS in January because we’re still looking for staff,” added Venzor. Providers say that childcare is rewarding, but comes with stresses that may make finding and keeping employees that are ready for that level of stress, quite difficult.

O’Connor said the issue of staffing is not brand new, but many more people have become keenly aware of the need since they’ve had to work from home while juggling caring for their children. O’Connor explained, “While it’s been ongoing, I think that there’s a lot of attention being put on it now because we’ve all lived it and we all understand it a lot more now because we’ve seen what it’s like to not have it. There are certainly like I said, many competing priorities, unemployment is also one of them.”

Owner of Smart Start Quality Childcare and Montessori School in Riverton, Donna Harrison, stated, “The federal government giving extra money for unemployment where some of us small businesses can’t match what they’re paying. People are saying I can stay home and make more money by not working than going to work.”

Harrison said that the federal and state governments have started to recognize the importance of early childhood education and early quality care.

“If little kids don’t get that when they’re young, they suffer their whole lives. They’re trying to play catch up when they get in Kindergarten, but they never quite get there because the first three years of a child’s life is when the brain cells are multiplying, synapses are being formed,” emphasized Harrison.

Part of the government recognizing the importance is through a program called Quality Counts, that helps people get their degrees in early childhood education.

“We’ve helped a lot of people get their degrees, but the problem is once they get their degree, obviously they’re going to leave the early childhood profession. They’re going to leave the private preschools and the private childcares because we cannot afford to give benefits. They’re going to move onto the public school,” added Harrison.

Donna says she thinks there would be less of a staffing issue if people in the childcare field who earned their degree, had their income supplemented, or benefits provided with help from an agency.

“I think it’s getting creative about the benefit package,” said O’Conner, “and really focusing on what some of the great benefits are of working with our early youth.”

“I think with the regulations being lifted, more people are starting to branch out and say ok, I’m ready to maybe go back to work, so I’m hoping. I’m hoping it will be better,” Venzor articulated.

The support services senior administrator for DFS asks that any providers experiencing staffing issues, reach out to their Regional Facilitator or the State Technical Assistance Coach.

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