LIGONIER — Every morning, Daniela Hernandez’ husband wakes up at 3 a.m. He doesn’t have to go to work until 4:30 a.m., but he has to take care of the children.
He’s got to drive the three children — who are 6, 2½ and 1 year old — to the babysitter about a mile away from their home.
“Usually they’re still asleep when they go, which is like 4 in the morning,” Daniela said.
Then, her husband drives about 25 minutes to Goshen, where he works in manufacturing. She goes to work around 5:30 a.m., also at a factory.
When she gets off work around 2:30 p.m., she picks up the children, brings them home and gets ready to do it all over again the next day.
“I get a little stressed out sometimes,” she said. “I actually just started getting therapy for stress.”
This story isn’t uncommon for families in Ligonier or in the area. Families with two working parents have to find childcare for their children, but some run into a big problem.
Few childcare providers exist, and waiting lists to enroll a child in preschool are months long.
Hernandez said she is lucky she’s found a babysitter who can take care of her children at 4 a.m. Without her, the low price she’s charging or her mother, who fills in when the babysitter can’t work, she might not be able to have a job.
Local officials and administrators are well-aware of the multitude of issues that make finding childcare so hard for families in northeast Indiana.
Rick Sherck, executive director of the Noble County Economic Development Corporation, said their research shows 62% of families in the region have children under 6 years old who need childcare because both parents work outside the home.
“From the surveys we’re getting, it’s a pretty big deal,” Sherck said.
Bill Bradley, the president and CEO of the LaGrange County EDC, said that definitely rings true for its families.
He also pointed out when qualified workers have to stay home because they have to worry about their children, the workforce takes a big hit.
“From my perspective, it’s a workforce development issue,” Bradley said.
The issue of a lack of childcare options became large enough in DeKalb County that Learning Link, an education initiative through the county’s community foundation, hosted an Early Learning Summit in April. Employers, nonprofits and government officials were invited to start tackling the problem.
Judy Sorg, Learning Link’s director, called attention to the issue of care of young children who aren’t old enough to go to school yet. If parents can’t find someone to watch their children, they can’t go to work.
“That’s kind of a crisis, is lack of slots for infants and toddlers,” Sorg said.
This is similar to what happened to Ligonier mom Hilda Rangel. When she, her husband and their four children under 7 years old moved to the city last summer, she didn’t yet have a job, which meant she qualified for discounted Head Start preschool.
However, if she would have started working part time, her income would put her household over the threshold of qualification. And she can’t afford full-price daycare, even inexpensive daycare, for her four children.
“It is pricey,” Rangel said.
So, she decided to stay home and care for her children herself.
She and her family would like to save up money to move out of her parents’ double-wide mobile home into a home of their own, but without her working, it’s hard.
There’s also the problem of pre-kindergarten children missing out on important skills they could get in a licensed daycare, complete with classrooms and teachers.
But, most families are just trying to get their children into any daycare that has open slots, or set them up with a babysitter they trust. Paying for high-quality preschool is not an option for many area parents.
Early education is more important now than ever. Sorg said as school standards get more challenging for young children, going to kindergarten is like what was previously first grade.
“The academic stuff, that’s easy to teach when they get in school,” Sorg said. “It’s that social-emotional development that’s so important from that very young age.”
But, running a licensed daycare means paying for qualified teachers’ wages. Which, in daycares that aren’t subsidized, means that cost is transferred to the parents.
Also, licensed daycares may not be able to be as flexible with parents’ work schedules as a babysitter or family daycare might be.
Complications with childcare options not only hurts local workforces and families who would like to have both parents working, but it hurts the state overall, too.
In a recent report by Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute for Early Learning Indiana, it’s estimated that costs and turnover to employers because of a lack of childcare cost the state $1.8 billion each year.
However, if the state decides to invest in alleviating the issue, the report sees a $4 return on every dollar put into early childhood education.
Some local businesses have decided to take matters into their own hands. Therma-Tru Doors in Butler, for example, has implemented a two-hour time off period for its employees, so one disruption in the morning or having to leave early doesn’t mean an entire day of work is missed.
Another conference to discuss early learning is scheduled. On Nov. 7, employers, preschool providers and community organizations are invited to attend another summit at Purdue Fort Wayne.