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Growing need for daycare leaves parents stressed

Finding a daycare provider may be one of the biggest hurdles new and newly-arrived parents face in Kenmare.

8/02/12 (Thu)

Kenmare has lost two in-home daycares

By Caroline Downs

Finding a daycare provider may be one of the biggest hurdles new and newly-arrived parents face in Kenmare.

“When I was pregnant with Brooke, our parents knew first and then [daycare provider] Margo knew,” said Heather Livingston, whose daughter is now three years old. “It’s a little stressful.”

Heather is one of several local parents caught on a daycare merry-go-round in town. Children Jacob and Brooke started with Margo Egeberg, who took a medical leave last spring, which caused Heather to schedule her daughter with provider Sonja Rylander on a temporary basis. When Margo announced her retirement, Heather had to go looking for permanent daycare services and found a spot with provider Priscilla West, wife of Church of the Nazarene pastor Doug West.

Then came an offer to pastor a church in Larimore, ND, and the Wests decided to leave Kenmare. “When a friend called and told me Priscilla was moving, my stomach dropped,” Heather said.

Priscilla herself soon contacted Heather with the news. “The minute I was off our landline phone with Priscilla, I was on my cell phone with Tera [Melaas],” Heather said. “My mother-in-law works and my own mom doesn’t live around here. Luckily, Tera had room, but I understand she’s full now. There’s no wiggle room.”

And Heather only needs daycare a few days each week because she works part-time at the Kenmare Community Hospital Wellness Center. “The feeling I get is that everyone is full,” she said. “I don’t know what anyone who’s expecting a child does.”

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Candace Sieg, deputy city auditor for Kenmare.

When Candace and her husband discovered they were pregnant with daughter Avery in 2009, they lined up a daycare provider immediately, which wasn’t simple because the Siegs were newcomers in town. “It’s hard going into a new community,” Candace said. “I called people I knew to find out names.”

Candace works full-time but uses daycare services only during the school year when older daughter Isabel attends Kenmare Elementary School. During the summers, Candace likes her children to be together, so she hires in-home care services for those months.

Lately, the Siegs have started discussing adding to their family. Candace emphasized she is not yet pregnant, but she has already reserved space with her daycare provider for an infant, looking ahead to a particular time frame.

“I had to book her right away,” she said. “Four years ago, the demand wasn’t so big, but now there are more young families moving in. I like my daycare and I want my kids all at the same place.”

Having family nearby
can be a big help
Nicole Brekhus, who works full-time at Eagle Operating, is herself one of Margo Egeberg’s former daycare kids. She and sister Jessica Brekhus both had daughters about the same time two years ago. Because there were no openings for infants at the time among any of the community’s daycare providers, they started by taking care of each other’s children. “I worked days and Jessica worked nights, so we could do it,” Nicole explained.

By the time Nicole’s daughter Kenley was nine months old, Margo had an opening, so Nicole took Kenley there while her sister used Billie Steen’s Fun Zone Daycare. During Margo’s medical leave, Billie had a temporary opening.

“I luckily got in with Billie and then she happened to have someone drop out,” Nicole said as she described how the short-term solution turned into a permanent change after Margo’s retirement.

Like Candace and Heather, Nicole sometimes gets worried about daycare. When the Fun Zone Daycare closed one week in July for a family wedding, Kenley was cared for by her father, one of Nicole’s aunts, and Jessica who happened to have two days off from work that week.

“If that wouldn’t have happened, I don’t know what I would have done,” said Nicole. “I look around town, and there are three people who just had babies. What are they going to do?”

Becky Stroklund of Donnybrook has often subbed in the Kenmare school district and worked at Little Learners Preschool. Now, she will be teaching full-time in Bowbells when school starts later this month. The Stroklunds have four children, but only their almost-two-year-old daughter needs daycare at this point.

“No one could take her,” Becky said as she described her daycare inquiries after she found out about the teaching job. “I even put an ad in the Bowbells paper and not one person called me.”

Becky had used various daycare services a few years ago on a drop-in basis when she was called to sub. “It seemed I could always find someone to take them,” she said, “but in the last two or three years, there’s been nobody with openings.”

She finally connected with a young woman who is offering private daycare services on a limited basis to a couple of other teachers’ families in the area. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for a new person moving into town with two or three kids who need daycare,” said Becky.

The mothers would like to see more child care capacity and options in Kenmare. In fact, three of them admitted they have questioned their ability to work when faced with limited daycare.

“At our office, there are two of us with kids at daycare,” Nicole said. “If we didn’t have daycare, that means at least two of would be out of there. Kenmare definitely needs another daycare.”

Candace, who previously worked at daycare centers in Bismarck and Minnesota, knows running a child care center or home-based daycare isn’t easy, but she would like to see more providers in town. “When I don’t have daycare, I don’t come to work either,” she said, adding that the times she has tried keeping her younger daughter at the office were difficult.

Heather has considered giving up her job when faced with finding daycare. “Do I keep working?” she asked. “That thought has crossed my mind.”

Heather also knows of stay-at-home mothers who need daycare occasionally for a variety of reasons, with parents helping each other whenever possible. “I’ve offered to watch a friend’s kids sometimes,” she said. “I think there are lots of moms who are willing to help out, which is great, but it’s not something you’re able to rely on.”

She continued, “It would be nice to see another person opening up a daycare, whether it’s out of a home or in another space, a safe and secure place with more room for kids.”

Becky thinks a center like the one now open in Berthold might be a good idea for Kenmare. “You have licensed people there who are educated in child care,” she said. “It would be more permanent and could take more kids and more drop-ins.”

Daycare provider has
enjoyed working in-home
Priscilla West, who is licensed as a group home for up to 15 children, had been caring for children in Kenmare on a regular basis during the past three years before she announced her family’s move. She typically had seven to nine children each day, ranging in age from infants to a 10-year-old, with assistance from another adult as needed.

According to state law, the number of infants and toddlers under a provider’s supervision limits the total number of children that can be cared for, depending on the type of license.

“I think there’s a huge need for daycare,” Priscilla said, “especially as people continue to move into town with children. Some of my parents had a very difficult time finding some place for their children to go. Some are going to unlicensed homes and some to providers who are working on their licensing.”

Priscilla once served as the director of a large child care center in an Iowa community, but she liked operating from home where she could tend to her own children as well as others. “I like to work with kids,” she said.

She encouraged other interested individuals to consider offering child care in the community and fill the void she is leaving. “If you have love to give a child, this is the job to have,” she said.

“It takes a person with patience and a big heart,” Candace added.

“Another daycare would be good to help out families in the community,” said Heather, “that need to work or want to work.”

While the daycare situation in Kenmare could be a nightmare for families with young children, the opportunity is open for new providers to get started. Additional information about child care services in the state, including licensing and training requirements, is available from the North Dakota Child Care Resource & Referral service’s website at www.ndchildcare.org.

For more information about potential local assistance and resources to open a daycare, contact Kenmare Community Development Corporation’s executive director Barb Wiedmer at 701-385-4232.

Editor’s note: Kenmare daycare providers Sonja Rylander and Tera Melaas were mentioned by mothers interviewed for this story, but they could not be reached for comment before the press deadline. According to the mothers in this story, neither provider had space available to take additional children at this time, and both women had waiting lists for their child care services.