Staff shortage prompts closure of Superior day care
Noah's Ark Day Care has been providing child care in Superior for 25 years.
SUPERIOR — Noah’s Ark Day Care, a ministry of Faith United Methodist Church for 25 years, will close its doors June 10 due to a lack of staff.
“We need people to work, just like every other company and every other business in this country,” said center director Kendra Quain.”We are not exclusive. What makes us exclusive is the fact that I’m losing staff faster than I can retain staff. In the past two years, we’ve lost probably close to 12 staff and we’ve only probably hired maybe three to replace.”
The shrinking staff numbers have led to changes in the center's hours of operation, movement of children from one room to another and a lower capacity.
At full staff, the former church building could provide day care to 72 children, Quain said. However, the shortage forced officials to close one of the center's infant rooms. Noah's Ark is currently licensed to care for 56 children.
The closure will displace 49 children from about 37 families, she said. Some will leave sooner than others. The center’s school-age program is slated to end Friday, March 11.
The center is down to seven staff members, including the director herself. She had to cancel her family vacation in May.
“I’m to the point now where nobody, nobody can have a day off; nobody can call in sick. ... You have to come to work,” Quain said.
They aren’t alone.
“We are not the only child care center in this position. That’s the problem. The problem is that I can’t, I can’t keep going this way,” Quain said. “We can’t pay our staff without raising our rates through the roof. There’s a lot of grant money out there, but it does us absolutely no good because when the money’s gone, then what do we do?”
Much of the state is struggling with a shortage of child care workers, according to Gina Paige, communications director with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
“Recruitment has been difficult in the northern and western regions of the state, and more recently we have observed other regions of the state experiencing a similar shortage as the nation grapples with a hiring shortage across all sectors,” Paige said.
The turnover in child care is enormous, Quain said.
“If you go into child care, you’re going into child care because you want to make a difference in a child’s life. That’s the only reason. Because there’s no money. There’s no benefits. There’s nothing,” she said. “And if you’re fortunate enough to get into a center that does offer those, kudos to you, but they’re few and far between.”
Paige said one factor for the shortage is that employers are offering increased wages and better benefits for positions like fast food and retail, which don’t require the educational qualifications and training of child care.
The state offered initiatives to help recruit and retain child care workers prior to the pandemic.
- The REWARD program , implemented in 2001, provides annual stipends ranging from $50 to $450 a year to workers in the child care and early education field who have reached specific education levels and stay in the field.
- The Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (TEACH) program, launched in 1999, provides scholarships to the early care and education workforce to complete credit-based instruction. To qualify, recipients must commit to working in their program after completing the scholarship.
TEACH scholarship recipients have a 4% turnover rate during their commitment year and overall turnover rate of 6%, according to Paige. REWARD stipend recipients have an average of 12 years of experience in child care and 1% turnover rate.
Post-pandemic state initiatives included the following:
- In 2020, Wisconsin launched the Child Care Counts payment program, which provides funding to increase wages and offer hiring bonuses for child care workers. The program will run out in 2023.
- In February, the Joint Committee on Finance approved an additional $30.6 million in funding for TEACH, REWARD and other programs aimed to support the child care workforce.
- The Evers Administration has invested over $824 million in federal relief funds to stabilize and grow the early childhood education community.
None of those has stemmed the tide at Noah’s Ark. Quain said she gave a presentation on the lack of workers to Faith United Methodist Church’s Health and Wellness Board, and they made the decision to close the center’s doors.
The director said she has been contacting local child care providers, seeking options for the center's families. The older groups have found spots, but baby spots are the hardest to find due to the ratio of caregivers to children.
"I will be displacing seven babies. And one is my grandson. So this is a double whammy for me," Quain said. "Not only am I losing my job, but my daughter doesn’t have child care."
After 10 years of working at the center, she said, it's hard to think about closing without her heart breaking.
"I'm going to miss every single family; I'm going to miss every single child," Quain said.
When asked how to keep child care centers in business, she said grants aren't the answer.
"It needs to be permanent, then it'll work," she said.
Options could include operating child care in a similar manner as school districts, Quain said, or a collaborative committee of centers that works together to look at what's best for children and families.
Will she stay in child care?
"Right now, Noah's Ark is my job," Quain said, but she's talked about the future with her husband, "and if my daughter can't afford child care for her infant son, I may become the granny nanny."
Editor's note: Superior Telegram editor Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten's son attends day care at Noah's Ark.