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Long wait lists for childcare trouble Arkansas parents

“Your child will likely not be an infant by the time you get a spot."

SPRINGDALE, Ark. — The Arkansas Women's Commission has released its official recommendations relating to the economic status of women in the workforce. 

One of those recommendations pertains to childcare— or the lack thereof. If you’re a parent or soon-to-be parent, you likely know finding a spot in daycare can involve a long waiting list.

Bright Haven Children’s Learning Center in Springdale has 135 families in waiting. If you’re looking for a spot for your infant… “Your child is likely not going to be an infant by the time you get a spot. You're looking at probably three or four years old before we have a spot available,” said Bright Haven Executive Director  Erin Helmer.

Helmer says their waitlist has been long for at least a year and a half. She has noticed an increased need for childcare in the wake of the pandemic and people reentering the workforce.

“A lot of centers closed during the pandemic because they couldn't sustain not only the requirements of what we had to do to make sure that we were keeping the children safe,” she said.

Staffing is a big issue. Helmer says it’s hard to find enough staff who want to work in early childhood education.

“The compensation isn’t great, we're not able to provide benefits like larger corporations are for their employees such as health insurance and dental insurance. And so it just becomes very difficult because any type of cost related to that has to be passed on to the parents who then have to absorb that cost as well,” she said.

In its report released this week, the Arkansas Women’s Commission says the challenge of finding quality childcare underlies many other challenges women face.

“COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing challenges, especially for those women in rural communities who may have already had difficulty accessing quality childcare due to the clustering of childcare in more heavily populated areas, transportation challenges, or availability for second and third-shift workers,” said Alison Williams, Commission Chairman.

Helmer believes attracting more employees to early childhood starts with incentives like free childcare. Without early childhood education, she says the workforce can't grow.

“I believe, also some partnerships with companies, larger corporations that we could partner with, that would help offset the cost of care for their employees to allow places such as mine to be able to financially support our employees better and make that more appealing to people wanting to enter the field,” said Helmer.

Now that the Women's Commission has completed its report, the Governor says non-profits and the private sector will continue the work to eliminate barriers for women.

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