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Evers tours closing facility

Gov. Tony Evers visited with Susan Elandt, owner of My First Adventure Child Care. The business will close on Friday, July 12. Evers is touring care centers around the state and noted how struggles with child care is affecting the state’s workforce. James Card Photo

Fewer child-care centers in Waupaca County

By James Card

Gov. Tony Evers stopped in Waupaca on July 8 and visited My First Adventure Child Care.

The business will close for good on Friday, July 12.

The 60 families they provide child care for made alternative arrangements that ranged from relatives babysitting, hiring unlicensed care providers or lucking out with openings at other centers.

All of the 14 employees have accepted employment elsewhere. The owner, Susan Elandt, has operated the child-care center for eight years and now is looking forward to a second career as an elementary school substitute teacher.

“I’m tired. It’s the stresses of running a child-care center. Balancing the costs of it. Paying the staff – they don’t get paid what they are worth and to try to keep quality staff in the building for what I can afford to pay them is continuous. It got to be too much,” said Elandt.

Child-care desert

Elandt agrees that the Waupaca area is accurately described as a child-care desert. She had a waiting list “a mile long,” especially for part-time care. She sees churches and public schools such as Little Hawks in Weyauwega as filling the need for child care.

“Either that or it’s state-funded. Right now we have the child care accounts funding from the state. But when that goes away,” said Elandt as she knocked her knuckles on the table, “That’s the cliff that hangs over our heads so when that gets taken away we’re all going to be adrift.”

The biggest child-care demand is for infants, but Elandt points out centers do not make any money caring for infants as the staffing ratio increases for little ones.

“You can’t charge enough to cover the cost of paying a staff member to watch four children plus all the overhead and everything else, so you have to balance your littles with really full two, three, four-year-old classrooms,” said Elandt.

The same goes for late-shift care for someone like a technician working at the Waupaca Foundry or a nurse working nights at the Wisconsin Veterans Home. There is a demand for child care during those hours. Elandt says staffing would be almost impossible and the numbers would not even break even without some kind of subsidy.

The building and everything in it is for sale. It could be purchased and run as a turn-key child-care operation or the new owner could repurpose the building for another type of enterprise. From the street view, the building size is deceptive. It has a spacious upstairs with multiple playrooms, offices and a kitchen area and a basement with more rooms. There is a fenced playground yard in back along with a parking area.

Previously, this location was home to two other child-care operations, Learning Cottage and Growing Hands.

Elandt gave Evers a tour of the facility. Evers previously visited child care centers in Redgranite, Prescott, and after Waupaca, he was headed for Westby.

In the 2023-25 biennial budget, Evers created a $15 million fund for child care providers. This money would support the Child Care Counts Program in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. This funding has helped thousands of child-care providers across the state keep their doors open.

“The $15 million has already been passed by the legislature and its sitting with Joint Finance Committee who has refused to release it. So it’s not going to help anybody. It’s sitting in a bank in Madison. We have to get that released obviously. This is just wrongheaded. To see a great place like this and see people doing good work and they are closing because we can’t get the public to understand how important early childhood care is.

“The $15 million was just a small pot of money that would help in a very temporary way. In the long term we have to make sure people can afford early childhood care and the people that work here are paid appropriately. By doing that we are helping our state’s economy. There are people that will have their kids at home now and somebody is going to have to take care of them.

“We’re short workers all across the state and as these things happen, mom or dad is going to have to leave the workforce. It’s not sustainable. It’s sad for the folks here but across the state, it’s going to happen more and more often,” said Evers.

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