We are ready to help address county’s child-care problem

Like the teenager whose sleeves and pant legs are suddenly a little too short, our community is clothed in some ways that no longer quite fit. Professional child-care services is one area where growing pains are evident.

“It has really surfaced as a problem just over the last couple of years,” says Ashley Knight, human-resources manager at Land O’Frost, a provider of pre-sliced deli meats and specialty meat products that has a manufacturing facility at 3295 Nebo Road in Madisonville.

Available jobs are at a 15-year high in Hopkins County. We saw nearly $100 million of new business investment during the 2017-18 fiscal year, and more is coming. That the economic growth translates into actual lasting improvements in quality of life for all of us around Madisonville, however, depends largely on how well we adapt to change — even the positive change we have all been working so hard to see.

One of the things we’ve been hearing more and more often at the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corp. is that the volume and variety of child-care services are holding back both employees from pursuing the careers to which they feel called and employers from landing the talent they need to achieve their business goals.

So we decided to get a little more insight into the problem, and a survey that we hosted on our Facebook page yielded enthusiastic response.

“In your opinion, are more child-care options needed in Hopkins County?”

Now, it is no surprise that literally all but one of the individuals who answered this question in the survey responded in the affirmative. Someone who does not believe more child-care options are needed here probably wouldn’t go to the trouble to fill out the survey. Still, the number of participants — 131 people — willing to navigate their way through the 10- to 15-minute survey process and the details of their feedback help validate and illuminate child care as a legitimate and increasingly important community issue which must be addressed.

For example, more than 85 percent of employees who responded said it had been “difficult” or “very difficult” to find child care that meets their needs. Here were some of the comments submitted:

• “Daycares are always full with a long waiting list.”

• “Very few take newborns.”

• “No options for an as-needed childcare.”

• “I work until 5. The options for childcare after school are limited.”

• “Do not open early enough or stay open late enough.”

• “Virtually nothing for babies under 2 in our area.”

Indeed, the need for more services in infant care, full-time care, part-time care, before- or after-school care, evening or overnight care, on-employer-site care, drop-in care and curriculum-driven/educational-focused care was affirmed by no fewer than 40 respondents per category.

Meanwhile, 47 percent of employers responding to the survey said they had experiences with people either declining or resigning positions because of child-care difficulties. Their comments indicated that the problem is most prevalent for second- and third-shift workers, with early-morning coverage being an especially gaping hole.

Participation in the survey was anonymous, but we specifically followed up with Knight because she had reached out to us about the problem. She said improving the availability of child-care and transportation services for her company’s employees top her list of work priorities for 2019.

“In spite of everything we do to improve the environment at work, it’s ultimately things outside work that most often cause employees to have to call in absent or not even accept a position,” she said. “We know that, emotionally and socially, when things are wreaking havoc at home, it bleeds into work.”

So what now? We are talking with organizations about what they might be willing to do to support quality child care in Hopkins County, and we are ready to assist entrepreneurs who might be considering launching a child-care business here by connecting them with state and federal resources and other support as appropriate.

But like most of the growing-pains problems Hopkins County is or will be experiencing in the next years, the solutions are going to have to be multi-faceted and multi-sourced. In this light, the most important role that we at the EDC can play is listening to and catalyzing your good ideas.

Please keep thinking, and please keep talking to us.

Ray Hagerman is president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation (www.westcentralky.com). His column appears monthly.

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