In rural areas, parents struggle to find day care for kids

Jul 14, 2015


It is becoming increasingly difficult for parents in rural areas to find day care for their children.

Good day care can be hard to find, especially in rural areas. Low population density means commercial day care center are rare, so a lot of parents rely on smaller child cares run out of peoples' homes. In one New York county, those family run establishments are disappearing.

Teri Brogdale lives on a quiet street, near the edge of town. But inside, her house is pretty lively — she runs a day care called Teri's Little Angels.

Brogdale's been at this for almost 23 years. But now, she's getting out of the day care business — she's ready to retire.

"I'm burned out. Twenty-three years — I'm ready. I'm tired," she says.

In rural Tioga county where Brogdale lives, many of the day care providers are just like her — they've been at this a long time, and they want to retire. But very few new family child cares are starting up to replace the ones that are closing.

That's the case elsewhere in the U.S., too. The number of family child care facilities dropped about 12 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent report. Over the same period, commercial day cares also declined about four percent.

Even with the recent economic rebound, the day care industry still struggles. Even as people started going back to work, women were finding low wage work, says Mary Beth Testa, a lobbyist for the National Association for Family Child Care.

"Shift work, hospitality jobs that weren't affording them the high price of child care either," Testa says.

Testa says tight budgets hit family child cares especially hard because they're so small. Lynette Brind knows all about that. She's one of the brave few starting a new family child care in Tioga County. Right now she has one customer and no other income beyond child support.

"I run the house on $200 a week. We go without," she says, "but we make it work".

It was an eight-month ordeal to start her day care — she had to take a water test, and a radon test, both of which failed.

"You have to bleach your system when the water test fails, and it ruined my hot water heater so I had to spend five days replacing this element that exploded in the bottom," she says.

It's common for regulatory hurdles like these ones to discourage potential newcomers, says Ann Shear, Tioga County's liaison for providers. Many states, including New York, have tightened the rules for family child care lately.

"The application keeps getting bigger and bigger and longer and longer, and it's a little bit overwhelming when they open up that booklet and see 60 pages," she says.

But Shear says the county really needs people who are willing to follow the rules and then some. They need quality programs, not simply a place to take kids.

Shear says demand for child care is holding steady. And if she can't find new ways to recruit those quality providers, the county could have a real crisis on its hands.