Without warning, every working parent’s dreaded scenario unfolded.
Greenwood resident Sarah Trueblood and her husband, TJ, had a stable situation with child care for their youngest daughter. A family friend watched their daughter Clair, who was 2 at the time, during the day while they worked at Endress+Hauser.
But abruptly, their caregiver informed the Truebloods she no longer would be available. The family had a few weeks to find a new option.
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“I just remember, my stress level was so high throughout the whole thing,” Sarah Trueblood said. “It wasn’t just finding a place but finding a place where you’d trust your children with and you felt comfortable with.”
On top of the daily stress of raising small children, families are increasingly dealing with another major source of anxiety: finding and maintaining child care. Planning for a babysitter or daycare often start soon after couples realize they’re having a baby. Parents put their names on waiting lists months before they’ll need care, in hopes of securing a spot. Sudden changes with their caregivers can have tumultuous results.
With more families requiring care so they both can work, open spots are at a premium. A shortage of care options in Johnson County only exasperates the problem, local parents say.
“This should be easier. You have to be really persistent,” said Jennifer Bostrom, an Indianapolis resident with a 2½-year-old daughter. “You have to start looking right away.”
Lack of child care options is a problem facing the entire state. Johnson County actually ranks in the top 15 counties in Indiana for available care, but is still woefully underserved. For every 100 children age 5 or younger, only 21.7 licensed child care slots were available, according to the Indiana Youth Institute.
Johnson County centers and facilities had the ability to care for 2,268 children in 2014. At the same time, more than 9,500 children age 4 and younger lived in the county.
That shortage is exasperated by the number of families that have both parents in the workforce.
On a weekday morning at Franklin’s Kid City Academy, children split up by age group for their daily lesson.
The 3-year-olds colored on worksheets, learning about animals with four letters in their names, such as lion. They practiced circling items and making X’s on their sheets.
Elsewhere, 1-year-olds listened to a teacher read a book. A group of older students played outdoors.
“One thing we’ve found is that we have enough kids now to group like ages together. They can learn together and from one another,” said Mitch Salyers, who owns Kid City Academy with his wife, Jonella.
Kid City Academy opened its new facility last year, upping its capacity from 93 children to 198. Child care centers are restricted by state regulations as to the number of children they can enroll, depending on number of teachers and classroom size, Salyers said.
Opening a new location helped meet a demand that they saw throughout the community, he said.
“Parents were very interested in coming to see if this was right for them. They wanted to get to know the teachers, get to know if it was a good fit,” Salyers said.
In the U.S., about 47 percent of households have two parents that work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 1978 to 2008, the rate of mothers who were employed with children younger than 6 rose from 39 percent to 63 percent.
“For some of us, it’s difficult when you’re a woman and you’re trying to be engaged in work, but you have to have good childcare options in order to feel like you can stay in the workforce,” Bostrom said.
The problem has been a focus of Bostrom, Trueblood and a team of Leadership Johnson County students. They are compiling a directory of child care options, including daycare centers, preschools, church care, summer camps and before- and after-school options.
That online clearinghouse, hosted by Aspire Johnson County, will include information such as types of services provided, contact information, address and hours. Additional information will include guides to helping parents choose a care option, and child-related financial topics, such as setting up a college fund.
Nearly every member of the group had struggled with finding care for their kids. So they decided to tackle the issue and create a countywide guide.
“It seemed like this was a really big topic affecting young professionals in Johnson County,” Bostrom said. “It was so hard to find anything online, that most people had resorted to asking friends or co-workers or someone they knew.”
Even when you have a seemingly stable situation, team members found that sudden changes can send parents scrambling all over again.
Greenwood resident Brett Perks and his wife Susan had found an ideal caregiver for their son Graham. A woman they met through their church agreed to come to their home. But when that woman decided to leave the child care business, it threw their careful planning into disarray.
“Not only did we have to try to find someone, but we had to put a deposit down, and found that the options filled up rather quickly,” Brett Perks said. “So you try to plan ahead, work out the logistics of it.”
When care options evaporated for Trueblood, her solution was to put out what she calls “a cry for help” on her Facebook page. The strategy worked: friends recommended caregivers and day care options, which gave her a list to start with from trusted sources.
A majority of the places had wait lists.
“I had maybe a couple of weeks to find something. You go into some of the places, and they have a three-, six-, nine-month waiting list,” she said. “That’s not going to work.”
By luck, Trueblood went to visit a Greenwood facility. That same day, a family with a child the same age as their daughter informed the center they were moving. The Truebloods could scoop up that spot.
“If that wouldn’t have happened, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said.
But it’s not simply finding a care option that’s difficult, it’s also taking the time to tour facilities and find one that fits individual families.
“You don’t want to make a decision until you see it. So even doing that means you have to take time off of work to do that, especially if you both want to go together,” said Kevin Steinmetz, a Greenwood resident and member of Leadership Johnson County.
Steinmetz works as special projects assistant for the city of Greenwood, while his wife, Cora, works in downtown Indianapolis. They had to decide if they wanted someone to care for their daughter Vivienne in Johnson County or look for an option closer to Cora’s job.
They had hoped to possibly start out with a part-time caregiver but eventually decided it made more sense to do full-time. Finally, they found that the Goddard School was the best fit.
“And we found it was kind of cutthroat about spots. We were five months out from having a child, first-time parents, and we had to make this decision before our spot was gone,” Steinmetz said.
Bostom’s husband, Jonathan, had stumbled upon a caregiver for their daughter while idly chatting with a saleswoman at Pottery Barn. The woman’s two grandchildren went to an in-home care center, which eventually accepted the Bostroms’ child.
“What are the odds of that? It was completely random, but it doesn’t seem to be unique,” Jennifer Bostrom said. “So many people we knew had lucked into situations like that.”