Childcare Innovation Team tackles funding and staffing shortages

Apply now! Help wanted. Hiring! These are the words on almost every daycare and preschool website and social media. Children are on waiting lists nearly two hundred kids deep all over the state of Michigan because qualified caregivers and early educators are not applying fast enough to keep up with the demand. There are fifty-six Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) in the state and not one is immune to this problem.
Children can thrive in good day care and preschool situations.
Though childcare facilities and preschool programs faced staffing shortages pre-pandemic, the numbers have now skyrocketed. Throughout the pandemic not only did less people apply for these positions, but more people also dropped off due to burn-out and choosing not to comply with mandates put in place either by the government or the employer. In the end, the children not being served are the ones losing out.

Fortunately, for Midland County, the Childcare Innovation Team was formed by several community members with diverse backgrounds to take on the challenges that providers are facing. “This Midland County group of early childhood, business, philanthropic professionals, providers/parents, and others who came together in the summer of 2022 to begin addressing the concerns employees, childcare industry and families were having in regard to childcare. Issues range from huge waitlists for childcare, lack of staff, impact on business, compensation for staff, etc. There are local and now state dollars available to help move the work forward,” says Kimberly Clark, Director of Early Childhood and Family Services for the Midland County Educational Service Agency (MCESA). The team held their first regional meeting on April 10.

“Whenever we face pervasive community challenges, solutions are always best found in the ways we come together. Pulling together a diverse group of organizations and people who have a stake in the success of childcare was hugely valuable and [ensures] diverse perspectives helped drive us forward. The group has already made strides, looking at grant opportunities, ways to create a pipeline for employment and credentialing and much more. "One area we also touched on was around staffing shortages,” states team member Holly Miller, President & CEO of United Way of Midland County, “Staffing shortages are a barrier for many businesses. However, nonprofits are experiencing an even tougher time because of their limited ability to attract talent. When you look specifically at childcare, providers are competing with for-profit organizations for talent—organizations who can generally pay and offer more. In addition, childcare providers spent a lot of time on the front lines during the uncertainty of the pandemic and that weight has not subsided. They continue to support children and families who are finding their way back to normal and are experiencing burn-out like numerous other frontline professions.” 

Childcare Innovation Team was formed to address child care challenges.Not only are the general education classes being impacted, but special education programs are also seeing shortages too. There is much work to be done in this area, but there is hope! “We have had staff shortages for paraeducators and teachers in special education since COVID.  However, we are starting to see an uptick in resumes coming in and building up our paraeducator ranks in the last several weeks,” shares Michelle Bahr, Midland County ESA Director of Special Education.

Burn-out, COVID, and funding are some of the factors that affect the number of providers available to care for and teach our state’s children and the following excerpt from a 2021 study published on supports this:

The biggest cost driver for providers is staffing. As with many service-oriented industries, the most prominent cost for childcare providers is personnel. Based on the PCQC (Provider Cost of Quality Calculator) estimates, approximately 70% to 80% of operating costs for childcare centers are linked to staffing. These costs include salaries, mandatory benefits (i.e., worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance), and paying substitutes when staff are on leave. Based on requirements for maximum group sizes and child-to-staff ratios, which are necessary for providing developmentally appropriate care and protecting the health and safety of children in care, staffing costs are relatively inflexible. According to interviews with providers, ensuring an adequate and stable supply of trained staff was a major concern of all providers that hired additional personnel. Providers also faced high average annual turnover rates: 24% at centers and 80% at group homes (where owner-operators typically have one other staff member). The full report can be viewed here

When asked how the community could get involved and help, Miller replies, “I would start by showing gratitude for all the people who pour into our children. Write a quick note to your child’s teacher, whether it’s in 4th grade, 10th grade, preschool or their childcare provider. Let them know that you see them and appreciate everything they do to help the children in your life. In addition, your philanthropic investment in nonprofits ensures that those families who can’t afford childcare have access to high-quality programs. United Way alone, invests over $700,000 of our donors’ annual gifts to provide scholarships for childcare and preschool throughout Midland County.”  Whether it’s time, talent or treasure, gifts are needed to support our children in Midland and beyond. When we come together, we are all better.

Reporting on the challenges of child care and preschool education is made possible with funding from the Midland County Educational Service Agency.

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Read more articles by Carly Lillard.

Carly Lillard moved to the Great Lakes Bay Region in 2007 from Traverse City. Since that time, she’s graduated from Northwood University and worked in fund development and communications for a variety of non-profits including Shelterhouse and Holy Cross Services. Currently, Carly is working to complete her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University in Strategic Communication. When she’s not writing, you will find her spending time with her husband, Jesse, and two children, Maycie and Elias. Carly can be reached at