In 2009 when the county-operated Little Sprouts Child Care Center was suddenly shut down parents and other caregivers were stricken with the fact that they would have to choose between sending their children to an unlicensed provider or ultimately quitting their jobs in order to care for their children.
Some caregivers made the decision to stay home and alternatively run their own daycare from their homes. Since the closure of Little Sprouts, more than a decade ago, only a few of those home run daycares have continued care for the families of the community.
There were numerous obstacles in the way of bringing another daycare facility to the community. It took more than 10 years, but each of those obstacles were met head on by leadership that was determined to see the plan become a reality. Because of the hard work and financial assistance from members of the community, the Little Leaders Learning & Care Center was organized and eventually opened in February 2020.
Since opening, LLLCC has been faced with more obstacles by way of lack of funds and needing donations for toys and other supplies, staffing shortages, and even the turnover of directors. The LLLCC is now on their third director in under two years.
Each of the classrooms within the center must have a lead teacher, and to become a lead teacher, one must complete 4 specific college-level courses as well as have 1,395 hours of experience in an educational field.
The Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lincoln Early Childhood Counsil also known as CKLECC, has scholarship funds for anyone who would like to take these courses. Lamar Community College offers a fast-track program to help individuals complete these courses. The program beings again in January. Anyone interested in the scholarship program should contact Julie Witt at 719-775-8622.
Last week LLCCC Facebook page was updated to inform parents and others that the center would be closed the week of July 19th through the 23rd. Parents were called and informed they needed to find other care for their children, and with that came a title wave of doubt and panic for some.
Chiara Browder, Little Leaders Learning & Care Center board of directors member said, “We aren’t shut down necessarily, we are just closed as we as a board and employees decided that we need to stay in compliance with the state so that they can’t come in and shut us down for not having a director on staff for 60% of the business day. The state can come anytime and conduct an inspection and we didn’t want to risk having them shutting down the daycare and ruining it for the employees and parents as well.”
Kaycee Strickland has taken over as director of LLLCC after former director Leisha Peck recently resigned. Strickland has applied for a waiver and has submitted her credentials to the state for approval.
Once the credentialling and waiver come through and Strickland is approved by the state to act as the director of LLLCC, there are still more obstacles to overcome. In the early weeks of summer break, Little Leaders was unable to accept infants into their facility due to not having a lead teacher.
This has wreaked havoc on families like Jacob and Taran Muehlbauer, who have a child in the preschool classroom as well as an infant. Jacob, who works as a parts salesman at NAPA, and Taran, an RN working at the Eads Medical Clinic, were called several times two weeks prior to the infant room closing and told they had to come get their son because they did not have the staff required to operate that room.
When the daycare closed its infant room at the beginning of the summer, Jacob and Taran had to make decisions on who would keep their children and how could they make it work? Their mothers both came to help as often as they could but that was not a sustainable solution.
“It was extremely difficult for us because we don’t have the family in town like many people here have,” Taran said.
Luckily since then, the couple has hired a babysitter and even though they did inquire about jobs and daycare in other areas of the state, they have decided to stay in Eads for now.
This is one example of what many families are dealing with this week as they must decide to trust an unlicensed provider, friend, or family member, or stay home from work.
Currently, there are only a few home daycare providers in town. Opening a home daycare is not as easy as one may think. To be within state regulations each home provider must obtain certificates and have a home inspection, they are then subject to random inspections of their homes.
Choosing to not be licensed comes with risks for the parent and caregivers alike. For one, as a parent if you take your child to an unlicensed provider their home may not have proper health and safety practices. As a caregiver, being unlicensed means that there could be a liability issue, and if something were to happen to one of the children being cared for and the liability would fall directly on the unlicensed individual.
Candy Lane, a long time Eads resident who has been in the home daycare business for several years has a “full plate”. “I do enjoy the littles; they are all a part of my family,” Candy says as she wrangles the group that she cares for.
Lacy Van Campen is a 2004 Eads High School graduate. She quit her job 4 years ago as a teller at Gerard National Bank because she and her husband JD did not have an affordable, reliable, sustainable, solution for their daycare needs.
Lacy then made the decision to open her home to the families of the community who were in a similar situation. Lacy has provided care for dozens of children over the last 4 years so that their mothers and fathers could continue working, “You cannot raise a family on one income alone, in most families both parents need to work, and some families require 3 or 4 incomes to make ends meet,” Lacy stated.
Van Campen went on to say, “Two or three home daycare options is not enough to take care of all the kids that need it.” She has had parents calling her to take their children as the LLLCC has had its ups and downs over the last year and a half.
This Thursday July 22 will be Van Campen’s last day providing care in her home for the families who have come to love and appreciate her services. She has accepted a position at the Eads School District as an paraprofessional and will be continuing her education to finish a degree.
Anita Brown has also opened her home to families who need daycare. She believes the need is there, even when the daycare is open, “I am here for my daycare moms and dads because I have been there myself, trying to raise a family while working full time. No parent should have to be in the situation to choose between working and caring for their children.”
The state gives an estimate of 7 to 21 days for the approval of Strickland’s credentials to be approved. This would mean, at the earliest, the daycare center could open by next week, and at the latest it could open by August 19. Strickland added, “We have also turned in another waiver for a possible lead teacher for the toddler room, but we question as to whether that waiver will be approved.”
Time will tell when the facility reopens, but one thing is for certain, there is commitment from the board who have been known to hold several emergency meetings and hold late night conversations to address and solve the issues as they arise.
The members of the board are Chiara Browder, Jennifer Crow, Braylynn Eder, Dennis Pearson, and Jan Richards. Each of these board members are stake holders in the community, business owners, public servants, parents, and/or grandparents.
The staff is having workdays to clean and get other projects completed inside the facility while there are no children present. Strickland has been working hard for just over a week as the new director to get everything into compliance should the state auditors walk through the door.
What LLLCC needs now more than ever is to develop a licensed staff so that their doors may open once again, and this time, stay open. If you or anyone you know is interested in obtaining the credentials to be a lead teacher, please contact Strickland at the facility or contact any of the board members.
The families of this community need this facility to remain open and to offer care for children of all ages. The workforce is key to our community’s success, and our young families must be secure in their daycare options. If not, we will see more families like the Muehlbauers who will be forced to look for jobs in other towns that offers reliable childcare.