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Many parents around north central Wisconsin struggle with maintaining adequate child care

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 8:15 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - When a child enters the world, someone -- or several people -- has to provide care for them. For most families today, to say it is a challenge to navigate a lack of accessible, affordable, quality child care options is an understatement.

“Childcare has pretty much always been an issue for us,” Kelly Hammond, a mom of two children of child care age in Stevens Point stated.

7 Investigates heard from dozens of parents around north central Wisconsin who were weighing what kind of care they wanted for their children with the realities of the current state of child care.

For some, it is choosing whether to stay home, which can mean sacrificing an income and, potentially, career advancement. For others, it is relying on family or their network to care for their kids. Some flex their work schedules to cover care needs. For more than half of families in the U.S., it is securing quality child care that fits their values and needs, that is physically accessible, and is manageable in their budget. Or, it is piecing together a combination of these options, or coming up with creative solutions.

“Really, it’s more like what places an opening that’s where you’re going to be sending your kids,” Hammond said, candidly.

This is all not to mention the moral value and perspectives each family places (or the pressures from others) on how much direct care parents should provide while raising their young children. Some families want to have a parent stay home, but cannot afford to lose the income. Others who may want to continue working feel that with the high cost of care paired with low income and lack of available care, that staying home is the only option.

Several parents told 7 Investigates they left their original careers to enter the early childhood education field in order to fill their own child care needs. For some of those parents, that was the intent all along -- they had planned or wanted to make that professional change. Others thought it was a good way to spend more time with their own children and wanted to do it while their children needed that care. Another bunch felt forced to leave the workforce due to the previously stated issues, and thought, they might as well care for other children too.

Molly Adzic pretends to talk on the phone with her son. She worked several months without child...
Molly Adzic pretends to talk on the phone with her son. She worked several months without child care before finding a provider they love, but they still face challenges.(WSAW Emily Davies)

Molly Adzic in Wausau was feverously searching for care for her son and saw a wide spectrum of levels of quality.

“We’ve explored some.... unsafe options, quite frankly,” she said. “We interviewed people that were doing child care and they were in similar positions: They were on maternity leave; they couldn’t find childcare, so opted to want to do something in their own home, but were ill-equipped to do so, frankly.”

She described apartments that had little child-proofing, with choking hazards aplenty.

“We actually started with a woman that only lasted a couple of days because it was, it was very clear after day two that it wasn’t a safe environment. He wasn’t being, you know, it wasn’t the level of care that we would have expected.”

For a little while, her mother-in-law covered the care, but then she got a job opportunity back in Oshkosh where she lives. It was about three months that the couple was left without child care. She and her husband would shift their work hours around depending on their jobs’ needs ensuring one of them was caring for their son and the other could work. Adzic said it was like having three full-time jobs: caring for her son, trying to find care for her son, and working to bring in an income.

“I mean, I had so many sleepless nights trying to figure out what we should do. I, I cried to my boss. I cried to my friends. I cried to my peers, my therapist, anybody would listen because I just, quite frankly, didn’t know what we were going to do.”

There was one in-home provider they liked who kept in touch with the Adzics despite being full.

“We were just desperate and so I called the woman basically crying saying there has to be, you know, something and she said ‘OK,’ she would take him on an emergency basis.”

Then she kept taking him the next day and the next day, until one day, a parent of a child in her care got a job on a different shift. A spot opened up and the Adzics took it.

She said they love the care from the provider and their son is happy there. However, securing quality care does not fix all of the problems. The cost of care is about the same as her monthly mortgage payment, which is tough, but she is happy to pay for quality care. The location is not ideal for them and neither are the hours.

“We pick him up at 3:45 p.m. every day. I would typically be at work until 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. ...It requires me to work from home after I put him to bed, rather than working in the office,” she said.

However, she has a positive outlook. It is tough, especially when she has meetings that happen in those evening hours, but she likes being able to spend that time with her son, to be able to put him to bed before catching up on work.

“So it’s actually been a blessing, but at first there was a lot of fear.”

Nicki Woitula holds her son at her home in Stevens Point. Since they do not have child care...
Nicki Woitula holds her son at her home in Stevens Point. Since they do not have child care secured for him, she has to adjust to work in the evening while her husband works during the day. She said inadequate child care makes it difficult to be successful professionals.(WSAW Tom Zurawski)

Nicki Woitula has been dealing with a lack of child care for about nine months.

“It’s been a lot of sacrifice on both my husband and my part as well,” she said.

They were able to secure child care for their 3-year-old daughter near their house, but they have to flex their schedules to accommodate caring for their 9-month-old son.

“So he’s at work right now,” Woitula said about her husband during the interview, “and he’ll be getting home around. 1:00 o’clock or so one 2:00 o’clock and then I go to work, and I’ll be there until I get done and, you know, can put in my day’s worth because somebody got to stay home with him.”

Her husband is a manager at a manufacturing company in Mosinee. While he often needs to be at the office, he can do some work remotely, like making phone calls. She is a case manager who works with children with mental health issues throughout Marathon County. While telehealth is an option, she explained having a screaming child in the background who needs a lot of attention himself makes it difficult to work from home. She also has to physically visit families all around the county.

However, they live in Stevens Point and that is where their child care is too. This makes it difficult when their child care closes down due to short-staffing or when kids are sick.

“It was almost like every other day they were getting sent home,” she explained. “We would get the call; one of us would have to rearrange our schedule for the day and come and pick them up, and then we’d have to figure out, OK, well what are we going to do the next day?”

The cost of care for them is also about equal to their monthly mortgage payment, though, with two, it would be double that. As for many families, that includes days that they have to pay for care that they are not receiving so they can hold their spot.

Kelly Hammond kisses her youngest daughter, Jane, as they play in their home in Stevens Point....
Kelly Hammond kisses her youngest daughter, Jane, as they play in their home in Stevens Point. She works part-time, but finding part-time care is tough, especially for having two children who need care, including one toddler.(WSAW Tom Zurawski)

Kelly Hammond, who also lives in Stevens Point understands the struggle of piecemealing care too. Her eldest daughter, Nora Jo’s, experience illustrates that well.

“She’s in her last year of daycare and in her young life she has been to two different daycare centers. You’ve been to one different in-home. You’ve had one nanny, and you’ve probably had 12 babysitters. And you are such a flexible, adaptable kid and I’m very grateful for that because as our childcare needs have changed the availability of childcare hasn’t always been there for us.”

She has two daughters, including one under the age of 2, which is a noteworthy element because every child under the age of 2 that a provider cares for counts for two older children’s spots. This makes finding care for infants and toddlers difficult, especially for parents like Hammond who do not want to split their children up.

She works part-time by choice. She said she read a study that said the happiest moms are the moms who work part-time, so she thought it would be easy to make that work. However, part-time care is almost tougher because providers have to then find other families to fill those days or times those other children are not in care. She was able to secure two days of care for her daughters at a center, but she needs three days.

“So, we’ve been hiring babysitters to finagle that last little bit of care. So, sometimes if the babysitter is not available, it’ll be a neighbor or friend or I’ll ask my mom to come watch them. It’s It’s really It’s been stressful.”

Hammond said she spends a lot of her time figuring out, “OK, what does next week look like?” The vast majority of the time that she has taken off has been due to child care reasons.

She recognizes this is also difficult for her children to constantly have to get used to new care providers.

“Do you remember when you went to Jessica’s house,” she asked her daughter Nora. “Did you like going to Jessica’s house?” Nora affirmatively replied, “mhm.” “Was it hard to leave there,” Hammond asked. Nora responded, “yeah.” “(It) was definitely hard to like, transition to like, you finally get used to a place and they close down or we hire a babysitter or a nanny and then their schedule would change.”

Not all of the options she has used for care have been what she had hoped for either, but she said she will not leave them at a place she feels they will not -- at the very least -- be safe.

“Kids aren’t willing just to go hang out with anybody,” she said she came to realize as she began exploring child care options. “There’s a lot of personal comfort that you as a parent need to have and trust as well as the child.”

These are all issues for finding traditional daytime care.

“When you start talking about second shift care, weekend care, or child care for children with special needs, those are really quite difficult to find,” Kelly Borchardt, the executive director of Childcaring -- a child care resource and referral agency said. “Often people are wanting jobs like others during the day and so for centers to operate second, third shift or weekends is very difficult.”

That also goes for parents working 12-hour shifts, as many care providers themselves work 12-hour shifts to allow parents with the traditional eight to nine-hour shifts to be able to pick up and drop off their children and still make it to work. Borchardt said families who have care needs beyond basic daytime care often piecemeal their care.

This is just a sample of scenarios parents face; some have easier than others, and having more resources does not necessarily mean having adequate, quality child care is easier to secure. While each family has its own unique experiences, there are commonly shared issues. Of the dozens of families in north central Wisconsin 7 investigates heard from, at least half considered leaving the workforce to stay home due to the various difficulties with child care. The vast majority of those who considered staying home, ultimately did. At least half rely on family in some form, though many others said they do not have family nearby or their family members also have other obligations, like full-time jobs that make it difficult to help out easily. About a third of families shifted their working hours to accommodate covering for child care gaps.

Several parents noted that any change in a piece of their schedule, whether it was an early childhood program only runs four instead of five days a week, a care provider takes time off, or their work pulls them in for overtime, causes major disruptions in their ability to do their jobs and have enough care for their kids. The closures of child care facilities due to COVID-19 were glaring examples of that type of disruption.

Others had their nightmares come true, ultimately realizing that their providers were neglecting their children, causing them to never trust child care providers again.

Several single parents said they rely on significant others for income so they can care for their children. Other single parents require government assistance because child care issues do not allow them to be able to work full-time.

Several parents said they either dropped out of the workforce entirely or went to part-time work because they felt they could not be good employees as they struggled with either a lack of child care, or their providers closing due to illness, all while continuing to pay for expensive care they were not receiving. For others, their income did not cover the cost of care or they broke even, making people question why they would pay for someone else to care for their child and come back with a $0 balance for the time they were away.

“We want to go and go to work and be successful professionals, but this child care situation that is out of our control makes it really difficult for us to be successful professionals,” Woitula concluded.

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