East-central Michigan collaborates to solve childcare crisis

There is a childcare crisis in Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Isabella and Saginaw counties, and parents, employers and providers have through the month of November to make their voices heard about how a shortage of accessible childcare affects them.

That invitation to be surveyed and/or interviewed comes with a chance to win prizes for participating, and a $50 payment, in some cases, for the time it takes to be interviewed.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to come up with solutions to the childcare issue, one affecting many parts of Michigan and the country. The coalition hopes that the more stories and data shared, the better to understand the full scope and impact of childcare shortfalls and to generate solutions.

What’s happening: Hosted by the Middle Michigan Development Corporation, 30 regional organizations have founded the East-Central Michigan Child Care Coalition to study and solve problems created by the area’s dearth of childcare options. 

Lack of consistent access to childcare that is affordable and readily available affects parents, family members, childcare providers, and any business whose employees rely on child care. In the majority of zip codes in the east-central Michigan region, there are three or more children for every existing slot at a licensed childcare provider, according to Jordan Blough-Orr, director of human-centered design at Data Driven Decisions and coordinator of the coalition.

The first step toward finding solutions — seeking input from diverse perspectives, including providers, parents, employers, and municipal and economic leaders.

Between now and November 30, the coalition is gathering online surveys and conducting paid interviews with parents, families, and childcare providers. 
Both surveys and interviews are confidential.

Additionally, employers in each of the coalition’s seven counties can take a three-minute survey about how childcare is impacting their employees and their ability to find sufficient workers.

The coalition hopes that the more stories and data shared,  the better to understand the full scope and impact of childcare shortfalls and to generate solutions.

How to participate: Parents and childcare providers living in the participating counties who complete surveys will be entered into a raffle to win cash gift cards after completing the survey. Those who agree to an interview via Zoom will be paid $50 for their time. Interview participants will be asked to reflect on their own experiences, their community, and their hopes and dreams for child care.

To speak about their experiences using childcare, participants should use one of these links:

Parent sign up link

Childcare providers should use one of these links: 

Provider interview sign up link 

Interested participants who have questions, or who lack internet access, may contact Blough-Orr at jordan@data-driven-decisions.org to arrange telephone or personal surveys or interviews.

How did we get here: How did this childcare desert form? Data show wages for childcare providers are lower than 98 percent of other jobs in the state — childcare workers do not generally make $15 an hour, nor do they generally have the benefits other jobs may offer.

According to Blough-Orr, many Michigan childcare workers use state benefits to supplement their low wages; parents cannot pay what the service actually costs, and many childcare providers are not operating at a profit — some may not even be breaking even.  The pandemic stressed the already shaky system and the childcare sector has recovered more slowly than most other sectors, with providers seeking work elsewhere because they simply can’t afford to stay in the childcare business.

How is this effort funded: The work of the new coalition is paid for by the federal COVID relief funds awarded to Michigan and earmarked for Early Childhood Investment Corporation. According to Blough-Orr, the entire state is doing this regionally, starting by addressing the need for in-depth regional data that reflects the needs not only of early childhood professionals but also families, employers, economic development institutes, municipalities, and everyone who's impacted by childcare issues.

What’s next: The goal is to provide survey results to coalition members by mid-December so they can start working on their strategic plan.

Who is involved: The organizations involved in the East-Central Michigan Child Care Coalition are:

Alma Public Schools
Bay Future
Bay-Arenac ISD
Building Blocks Childcare & Preschool Center
CAN Council
Central Michigan University
Central Michigan University child care provider-home
Children’s Discovery Academy
City of Midland
City of Mt. Pleasant
Clare-Gladwin RESD
CMU Human Development and Family Studies
Corteva Agriscience
Creative Beginnings Childcare
Family Home Provider and business owner
Gratiot-Isabella Great Start Collaborative
Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works!
Great Start to Quality Central Resource Center
Greater Gratiot Development Corp
Michigan Childcare Centers - KinderKare
Michigan Works, Great Lakes Bay Region
Michigan Works! Region 7B
Michigan Works! Region 7B, Arenac County EDC
Mid-Michigan Development Corporation
Middle Michigan Development Corporation
Midland Area Community Foundation
Midland Business Alliance
Midland County ESA
Midland ESA
Midland Great Start Collaborative
Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce
Mustang Hill Childcare at Meridian Public Schools
PartnerShift Network
Regional Preschool Partnership
Saginaw Community Foundation
Saginaw Future Inc.
Saginaw ISD, Eastern Great Start to Quality Resource Center

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword, and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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