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Franklin centers fill up fast

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Four-year-old Ethan Sullivan plays with a wooden train Thursday at the Johnson Memorial Hospital Discovery Child Development Center. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Four-year-old Ethan Sullivan plays with a wooden train Thursday at the Johnson Memorial Hospital Discovery Child Development Center. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

If you want to get a child into a day care in Franklin, you’ll likely need to get on a waiting list before the baby is even conceived.

Waiting lists at day cares in Franklin are long, and a center near Interstate 65 in Franklin that was licensed for more than 100 children closed about a month ago, which has led to even longer lists at local day cares that are already full. For example, more than 90 children are on a waiting list to get into the Discovery Child Development Center at Johnson Memorial Hospital.

Franklin has nine licensed day care centers and home day cares, with a maximum capacity of about 400 children, according to the Indiana Bureau of Child Care. But most centers run day-to-day with slightly fewer children than they’re licensed for, so the actual capacity is less. Greenwood and the Center Grove area have more than twice as many day cares and preschools as Franklin and more than three times the capacity, according to state licensing records.

Waiting lists at day cares there were much shorter, typically one to five families long, owners and managers said. Woodside Children’s Center in the Center Grove area is full at 105 children with a short waiting list, but parents could find at least three other day cares within a mile of that location, owner Annette Chom said.

Adventures Child Care and Learning Center in the Center Grove area is full for infants and toddlers, which are smaller rooms, but had openings for 3-year-olds and school-age children, assistant director Christine Waters said.

In Franklin, a preschool that can hold 20 kids has a waiting list of 10. A home day care licensed for 16 kids has 12 families waiting for an opening. County Kids Pre-School and Childcare in Trafalgar has families that drive down from Franklin, drop off their child, then drive back to the city to go to work, employee Keli Ankney said.

Since day cares are privately run as businesses or by local residents or churches, the state doesn’t have much sway to bring new day cares where they are needed, according to Melanie Brizzi, administrator for the Bureau of Child Care. People will open up day cares in areas where they aren’t needed, while no one might be interested in opening in an area where there is a need, she said.

Shortages a local issue

Multiple day cares are needed due to limits on how many children each center can care for, Brizzi said. A home day care can have a maximum of 16 children, while centers are limited to one child for every 35 square feet, Brizzi said. That means a center that is full can’t take on more children to serve the community unless it expands the building, she said.

Day care shortages aren’t a statewide problem but tend to be a local issue based on the number of centers available near parents’ home or work, said Pattie Ryan, executive director of the Indiana Association of Child Care Resource and Referral, which helps families find child care and provides data for state offices.

The economy also can affect how often day care is utilized if parents are working when they hadn’t before or new jobs bring more workers to a particular area, she said.

The day care shortage in Franklin has become more of an issue since the economy improved, one local day care owner said. When Mitch Salyers and his wife purchased Kid City Academy in Franklin five years ago, day cares weren’t as full because people were out of work or couldn’t afford day care, so they would make arrangements with family or friends, he said.

Now people are either back to work, both parents are working for the first time or people are heading back to school to pursue degrees and aren’t available during the day, he said.

And fewer home day cares are available now than in the recent past, said Sara Petersen, who has run a home day care for about 40 years. She used to have a list of other home day cares she could refer people to if she was full, but that list no longer exists, she said.

“I can think of three or four right now I used to give their names out that are no longer in business. So if the workforce is increasing and the day cares aren’t, you’re going to have a shortage,” Petersen said.

Planning ahead

More families in Franklin also are looking for day care after Smiley’s Early Learning Center near I-65, which was licensed for more than 100 children, closed last month. Salyers received a call from a father who was concerned that he would lose his job if he couldn’t find a place for his child, he said. He’s got another family waiting because the child goes to Northwood Elementary School, and the day care center’s bus that takes kids to and from school is full.

Kid City Academy is expanding to a new location, which will allow it to add another room for 3-year-olds and older, which will allow them to get in most of the 25 families on the waiting list, he said.

Marissa Stout runs the 16-child Loving Place Daycare out of her Franklin home and was getting call after call from people looking for a new place after Smiley’s Early Learning Center closed. She couldn’t take any of the children because she is full year-round.

The shortage makes it tough for a family to transfer to a new center or if they’re expecting a baby or just moved into town. The Johnson Memorial Hospital day care center, which is the largest in Franklin with up to 103 children, gives priority to hospital staff and families who already have one child enrolled, so a new family may have to wait even longer for an opening, director Judy Nevins said.

“If you’re looking at my waiting list, people still get on my waiting list; and I’m very honest with them and I tell them, ‘You need to have a Plan B,’” Nevins said.

Parents will have a quicker time finding care if their child is older because centers are licensed to have more children aged 3 and up where fewer staff are required to supervise them. Infant care typically is the most difficult to find because some centers or preschools don’t take infants or toddlers, Stout said. Smart Start Childcare and Preschool, for example, only takes children age 3 to 5 for classes, owner Donna Lee said. Canary Creek Head Start is licensed for up to 83 children, but also only for ages 3 to 5.

Predicting difficult

Infant rooms require one adult for every four children, and the maximum number the state will allow any center to have is 16 infants, Nevins said. Due to the small number of openings, if a woman who just found out she was pregnant called to get on the waiting list for Nevins’ center, she would have no hope of getting in by the time the baby is born, she said.

Predicting how long a wait will be is tricky for older children because centers have to wait for parents to pull a child out to create an opening, said Adam McClurg of Honey Grove Educational Daycare. An infant will move up to the toddler room once they’re able to walk and feed themselves, so it’s easier to predict when openings become available at younger ages, he said.

Finding an opening on the north side of the county is easier because the area also has more churches that run day cares, which helps take some of the pressure off state-regulated centers, said Tracy Heyob, director at The Goddard School. Ministry day cares don’t have a limited capacity like day care centers or home day cares do, so they may have 10 children or 100 children.

Greenwood and the Center Grove area have five ministry day cares that are registered with the state, compared with zero in Franklin. That’s leading to people having to try to get in at many places and take the first one that opens up, instead of having the opportunity to choose where they think their child can get the best care and education, Nevins said.

“A lot of times when I call to see if someone still wants on the waiting list, they’ve already found other day care arrangements,” Nevins said.

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