'It's the hardest decision': El Dorado daycare closes as child care staff shortages reach crisis levels
A childless classroom with walls more barren than usual and chairs tucked away. This is becoming more of a common sight at the child care center at First Baptist Church in El Dorado.
Senior Pastor Jordan Friesen says “recently, we've been unable to house as many kids as we would like to be able to. We're licensed for I believe, about 120 and we've had 68.”
The smaller capacity is not for a lack of parents wanting a spot for their kids. According to Friesen, there are over 100 on the waiting list. He says the problem comes down to staffing. It has gotten so bad, the church announced last week it shutting down its entire childcare center after being open for 60 years. “In fact, the hardest decision I've ever seen us have to make. It was not a decision we came to lightly."
Friesen says the church has not had a new application for a teacher in three months.
"We've just been unable to hire qualified teachers. We have done marketing efforts, we've done recruitment efforts, we've reached out to universities. In Kansas, we've had minimal response from that. We reached out to all of the churches in Butler County that align with our beliefs as a church, no response from that.”
Friesen says they are trying to give their families enough time to potentially find another option by holding off closing until September 30.
The closure of First Baptist highlights a problem Child Start Executive Director Teresa Rupp is seeing across Kansas, a major lack of child care staff. “It's very hard everywhere, but in a rural community, to lose a large center, that's it's a killer.”
The numbers back that up. Data from Child Care Aware of Kansas shows as of Monday, August 22, only 36 percent of potential demand is met in Butler County. You can find that data sheet below.
Rupp says she has had conversations with leaders in El Dorado about the problem over the last year. “They were telling me stories about people who live in El Dorado and work in El Dorado who were driving their kids out of town to childcare, and then driving back to El Dorado and work.”
Rupp says as of now, the situation is at a crisis level and something communities need across Kansas need to address.
“If it can happen in El Dorado, can it not happen in Winfield? Can it not happen in Newton? Can it not happen in Belle Plaine."