Big boost for child care
Waupaca city, county each receive $75,000 grants
By James Card
Waupaca County and the city of Waupaca were each awarded a $75,000 Dream Up! Child Care Supply-Building grants.
Part of a Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) initiative called Project Growth, the grants help communities and businesses tackle problems with child care.
The grants for Waupaca County and the city of Waupaca – along with 14 other businesses and organizations throughout the state – are in the Fall 2022 cohort of recipients.
According to Greg Grohman, the city’s grant writer that submitted the application, it was serendipitous for both the city and the county to be awarded grants during the same time period as the resources could be better pooled towards a shared vision in the community.
He pointed out that this grant money has not yet been earmarked for anything in particular. A team of people from a variety of backgrounds will evaluate and make a plan to expand existing child care opportunities.
On Thursday, June 1, DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson visited Waupaca and gave a brief speech outside of city hall about Wisconsin’s childcare challenges.
She then participated in a roundtable discussion with city, county and state officials.
“These challenges, if not addressed, will significantly impact our economy because we all know – and I’m one of them – that when parents can’t find care that meets their needs, they can’t enter or remain in the workforce and it’s really tough to make that choice. The value of childcare cannot be understated. It is the work that allows other work to happen,” said Amundson.
She pointed out that the DCF has invested moe than $824 million in federal funds to bolster child care in the state.
According to the DCF, Wisconsin is in the middle of a childcare crisis that has been in the making for decades.
Child care deserts
Child care deserts are defined as areas where three or more children are waiting for an open slot at a childcare provider. Urban areas tend to be better balanced than rural areas.
The percentage of zip codes in Waupaca County that are classified as child care deserts is 73%. By comparison, Waushara is 63%, Shawano is 75%, Outagamie is 50% and Winnebago is 25%.
“The lack of quality, affordable child care is a problem that is impacting everyone in Waupaca. There are more children in need of care than there are slots available so obviously we know there is a need. The average cost of full-time care is just under $900 a month. If you think about that, that’s about $10,400. And if you take our median income, that’s about 25% of their income is going to pay for child care. So if you can find a place – it costs a lot of money,” said Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith.
Later at the roundtable discussion, 13 people took a look at child care problems in Waupaca.
City administrator Aaron Jensen recalled is daughter’s 4K graduation ceremony. “The amount of passion they [child care workers] put into it—it’s unbelievable. It’s a credit to them about how much they care about the job they do,” he said.
That led into a discussion of how to attract and retain child care workers, and the work they do and their average wages. DCF Secretary Amundson agreed that child care workers should be paid better but there had to be a way to do that without passing the increased costs onto already burdened parents.
She said she has two kids that were born 23 months apart and there was a time when she was paying double her mortgage in child care costs. Eventually that was unsustainable and her husband, a teacher, had to drop out of the workforce to look after their children.
The hardest-hitting comments came from Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Office Director Ryan Brown who tied quality child care to the big-picture survival of communities:
“When it comes from a planning standpoint, Waupaca County is facing some very serious problems in the future when it comes to demographics. We have an aging population and the portion of the population that is serving in our workforce is getting smaller and so it’s really important for us to bring in people of that age. They will be filling the holes that we have right now in our labor shortage and also to help with our school enrollment issues. They are all very much intertwined,” said Brown.
He mentioned some analytics he recently saw about the population of young people in Waupaca.
“At the age they leave here to go to college—where they go it doesn’t make any difference – but the point though, is that we need to give them a reason to move back here. And once they move back here, statistics show that they end of staying here and they raise their kids here. Child care has been a known problem for a very long time and this is something we’ve been studying for some time about what is stopping community growth. We need to make sure people aren’t using lack of child care as a reason to not move back into our community,” said Brown.
Thedacare is running Safe Sitter classes to prepare youths in grades 6-8 to be more safety minded when babysitting or looking after younger siblings when home alone. The class has role-playing exercises and uses mannequins to practice CPR and choking rescues.
Upcoming classes are June 13-14, July 11-12 and a one-day class on October 15. They are held at the Thedacare school across from the hospital at 950 Park Ave.
The cost is $35 ($30 for the one-day class) and students should bring their own lunch and beverages. Those interested can register at thedacare.org.