WASHINGTON CO., Tenn (WJHL)- There’s a critical shortage of daycare options in the Tri-Cities. Some say government red tape could be to blame.
Earlier this month, Shining Stars Christian Learning Center in Johnson City closed its doors due to leasing agreement issues. Eighty-Five children went to that center.
Previous story: Shining Stars Christian Learning Center to close next week
Parents of these children are having to find a new childcare center for their kids, causing an even higher demand for childcare.
Some say opening a daycare is easier said than done.
Shining Stars Christian Learning Center was one of two centers that have closed just this year. DAPP also closing its doors.
Both of these closings and the consistent lack in childcare in Washington County, TN has left families scrambling to find childcare.
Places like Sundale Preschool have over 100 children on their waiting list.
The Operations Manager for Sundale and Boones Creek Child Care Center, Lauren Lourens, says there’s a need for more centers.
“I would love for other centers to open. Parents need care. My grandmother started the second facility in Johnson City in 1967, and then my parents had 8 childcare centers while I was growing up. They have retired and I help operate the two that we have, which is Boones Creek Childcare Center and Sundale preschool. We are completely full with a waiting list. We have over 200 people at Boones Creek and 150 at Sundale,” said Lourens.
Every childcare center in Tennessee is evaluated by the Department of Human Services. DHS then gives them a score from one to three.
Both Boones Creek Childcare Center and Sundale Preschool are three-star facilities.
You can find the full list of Washington Co. TN childcare facilities and their rating here.
“It’s the star quality program. It’s the rating program. It’s made up of several components. It recently has changed. DCS rules changes last July,” said Lourens.
Some of the components checked include director qualifications, professional development, patio and group size, and parent involvement. Lourens said there are also 30 square feet required for each child. limiting the number of children you can have in a given space.
These items are checked by a program evaluator every three months or whenever a complaint is brought up.
Lourence said that Children’s safety is the main priority. However, some of these tough regulations are making it hard to operate or open a center,
“It’s very difficult in the state of Tennessee to open a childcare center. Not just with DHS but its also the fire marshal, environmentalists. It’s all kinds of legal and lots of red tape.”
Bobbie Marie Gregg started the process of looking for a childcare center for her son Coehen even before they moved to Johnson City. She finally found a spot open at Shining Stars but had to start the process of looking for a center over again when they closed their doors.
“I’m originally from here but moved to Johnson City exactly a year ago,” Gregg said. “Even before we moved back in April I already had him on waitlists. Unfortunately, in this area, it seems that for full time working parents the availability of childcare options are pretty limited. I had him on a minimum of five waiting lists. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to petition our lawmakers to request some kind of action. Maybe to make it easier for people to open up childcare centers. If we want to continue to be an area that’s growing, an area that caters to families, and we want more families to come to this area, then encouraging people to open up childcare centers and providing that support to full time working parents is crucial.”
News Channel 11 has called several three-star programs in the Washington Co., TN area. Each one we contacted had waiting lists of 50 or more children.
The Tennessee Department of Human Services sent this statement in response to questions regarding daycare programs:
The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) is committed to promoting early childhood environments that are safe, healthy, and educationally rich. Generally our child care programs strive to support improvements in child care quality, while increasing access. As part of that commitment, we made two key changes this year to incentivize more Tennesseans to open a licensed agency.
• TDHS increased the reimbursement rates to providers who accept children that are part of our Child Care Certificate program. This program subsidizes child care for parents who need that help, including working parents and those who are attending a higher education program.
• TDHS also established new incentives, within the Child Care Certificate program, for providers serving children during non-traditional hours and for those operating in counties considered distressed or a child care desert.
Local licensing staff are eager to partner with individuals and businesses seeking to open a child care program. Steps in the licensing process include submitting an application, receiving pre-licensure training and orientation, and completing fire and health inspections to ensure that the child care environment is safe and healthy for the children to be served. All licensed agencies are expected to comply with the child care licensing rules, as a basic standard.
The Star Quality program is an voluntary program for child care agencies to be recognized for exceeding minimum licensing standards. It would be incorrect to correlate any connection between that program and a lack of child care options in a given county. Anyone seeking more information about opening a child care program can visit this website https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/for-families/child-care-services/how-to-become-a-licensed-child-care-provider.html
or call 1-800-462-8261.