By Julie Ball • Correspondent
Working parents in Macon County have few choices when it comes to child care for their infants, according to members of a committee tasked with coming up with some solutions to the county’s child care shortage.
That group is expected to make some recommendations to county leaders this fall, and the solution could involve a public-private partnership.
“We have the facts, and we know it’s needed, and the next step is how can we achieve (a solution) and not put all the burden on the Macon County taxpayer,” said Ronnie Beale, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners.
The goal of the committee is to come up with at least 40 additional infant and toddler day care slots in Macon County, according to Johnny Mira-Knippel, a member of the committee and vice president of Tektone, a private, family-owned company based in Franklin.
Macon County has just 72 slots in licensed day care facilities available for children ages 2 and younger, including slots within the Head Start program. Of those, less than 25 slots are for babies under 1 year old, according to Jane Kimsey, director of the Macon County Department of Social Services.
Chuck Sutton, executive director of Macon Program for Progress, the nonprofit that administers the Head Start program, said Head Start has a waiting list of up to 100 children, newborn to age 3, for its programs.
“That’s been consistent the last three years,” Sutton said.
One problem is providing care for infants costs more, and those costs discourage some providers from offering infant care.
“This is the most expensive age. That’s one reason you don’t see it,” Beale said.
State licensing rules establish ratios of children to teachers or caregivers, and infants require another level of care compared to older children.
The shortage of slots for infants means parents often depend on grandparents or other relatives to take care of infants. If the relative gets sick or isn’t available for some other reason, working parents can find themselves without care for their children.
“It’s extremely important. You lose employee days when children are sick. As a parent, you are stressing about how to take care of kids,” Mira-Knippel said. “It’s not just one person’s problem. It’s a community issue.”
Beale said the shortage also affects the county’s ability to recruit new industry.
“It’s hard to recruit businesses when the first question they ask is how are we on day care,” Beale said.
Barbara Waters, volunteer preschool administrator for Resurrection Lutheran Church in Franklin, said even day care facilities that only take older children struggle with insurance costs and meeting safety and security concerns. The Resurrection Lutheran Church facility only takes children who are more than 3 years old.
The county’s committee is still developing solutions to address the shortage. The group is expected to bring recommendations to the Macon County Board of Commissioners in October.
One possible solution is a public-private partnership, which allows the county to provide a building at a low cost to a private group. The private group would then provide infant care.
Beale said any solution will carry a price tag.
“Those recommendations are going to involve money, and that’s at a premium in every county,” he said.