Brittney Burns — Staff Writer
A few short months after opening, Kim’s Kids Daycare is closing, leaving about 30 children needing a place to go during the day. When Kim’s Kids opened, the new business was touted by county leaders as a way to fill a long-standing void in Macon County. Child care, or the lack thereof, has been a topic of discussion amongst county leaders for years, so much so, that the county’s comprehensive plans specifically addresses the issue and ways to improve it.
“There is a real lack of licensed quality slots for children in Macon County,” said Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “This is especially true for infants. This translates into a quality of life issue for our citizens and has a real economic impact on our businesses. For instance, if a young family is struggling to find quality childcare they may miss out on a job opportunity and a chance to better their lives.”
The county’s angle on addressing the issue is more than just ensuring a quality of life for residents, but also, the economic impact the lack of childcare can have. “If a business has employees who are continually concerned about who is keeping their child on any given day, they lose productivity and the business suffers and more importantly is the child,” said Beale. “It is widely known that the first 2,000 days of a child’s life is when they build the capacity to learn and develop into his/her fullest potential. That is the main reason that we need all Macon County infants and toddlers in a safe and nurturing place where they can develop and learn in a quality daycare setting.”
The last survey looking at child care in Macon County showed that nearly half of the infants in the county did not have available slots at child care facilities. Beale noted that while businesses such as Kim’s Kids have tried to operate and alleviate the problem, the cost of operating such a business is often too much.
“The extreme costs of starting a childcare business with marginal returns is the main reason we’re seeing less public daycare centers now more than ever,” said Beale. “Along with that, it is hard to hire and retain quality staff based on such low-profit margins. Also, there are the burdensome regulations for licensed childcare that make this a very difficult business to manage as the rules and regulations seem to continually change making it more and more difficult to stay in business.”
When Beale was made aware of the daycare closing, he scheduled a meeting with Chuck Sutton, Director of Macon Program for Progress to discuss if anything could be done.
According to Sutton, state regulations on childcare are very strict and unfortunately MPP can’t do much more than what they are doing currently. While they are constantly taking applications for the upcoming school year, there is a significant wait list for both infant care and toddler care at MPP.
MPP has been discussing the idea of expanding their childcare options, but that is a longterm process and doesn’t offer a quick fix for families affected by the most recent closing.
“As county leaders we must continue to influence the regulations and state government in an attempt to help the local provider,” said Beale. “Also, on the federal level we must try to help the parents of these children with overwhelming costs of full pay childcare which in a lot of cases can be as much or more than a normal house payment. We must also look at the economic impact of having quality childcare in Macon County, as this is a very important tool in the recruitment of new business.”
While working on regulations is something the county plans to continue to work toward and advocate for, Beale noted that a longterm solution would be for the county to work with a private business to ensure enough childcare slots are available for the number of children in Macon County.
“The ideal situation would be an infant/toddler daycare center that could service newborns to five-years-old with flexible schedules for working parents,” said Beale. “I believe this would have to be a public and private partnership, and as Macon County moves forward it is an issue that must be taken very seriously.”