Economic Downturn Affects Local Child Care

JONESBORO -- Side effects of the struggling economy are making their way to Region 8.   Families are taking a good long look at child care.  Some parents are cutting back; others are actually looking for more.  It's a sign of leaner times, shrinking paychecks and job layoffs.

Renette Wilson loves her job as owner of Kiddie Castle daycare in Jonesboro.  But, she--like so many of the parents of these children--had to rethink her financial situation.

"Over the past year to a year and a half that there has been a steady decline in child care services," said Renette Wilson, owner and operator of Kiddie Castle daycare. "As far as parents coming in and needing child care, enrollment here has gone from between 60 & 80 children to 35 and 45."

So Wilson began teaching art in the Osceola School District and driving back to Jonesboro as a way to make ends meet to keep the daycare going.

"We even reduced our rates and had an enrollment special just to pick up business at the child care center to keep our employees with jobs," said Wilson.

Parents all over the country and here in Region 8 are having to tell daycare operators that they must scale back or not bring their children at all due to job layoffs and cutbacks.

"It's a funding thing and it does happen in the sense that the poorest of families get squeezed--during the presidential campaign there was a lot of talk about that kind of thing," said Rhonda Smith, owner and operator of Little Star Learning Center.

Rhonda Smith says Arkansas provides assistance for low-income families when it comes to child care.  The only problem is: demand for these programs is so great there's a two to three year waiting list for the help.

Since daycare costs average between $3,380 all the way to over $10,000 annually in some places, low-wage workers are feeling the pinch.

"Just the people who have started here and then having to leave because either Dad's hours got cut or Mom's hours or their jobs have gotten eliminated," said Denise McGrath, Assistant Manager of Blessed Sacrament Child Care Center.  "If they have a grandparent in town, they;'ve gone to that. Or they've found a daycare that takes part-time."

In fact, 40% grandparents who live near young grandchildren are regularly providing child care.

"Grandparents will come and pick them up and sometimes help with the bills and that kind of thing," said Smith.  "It seems to be somewhat of an extended effort."

Smith says daycare tuitions are likely to go up given the costs of higher food prices.  And for some, going without childcare is just not an option.

"On the one hand there's more demand for it and more of a need in a sense that a lot of parents have taken two jobs," said Smith.  "They have to work extra hours. They've got that kind of situation."

"I'm just trying to hang in there and see if it will pick back up," said Wilson.  "I have been in business for over 8 years so I figure with the economy getting a little better and the gas prices going back down maybe my business will pick back up."

But there's one thing that's constant for child care centers that accept them: the need for infant care.

"We're we're just overloaded with people who want infant care," said McGrath.  "Yes, in fact, we opening a second infant room."