Parents in the Monmouth community, like other small communities, face a serious challenge from the lack of childcare options.
“Daycare is such a huge issue,” said Lisa Torrance, Director of the Knox County University of Illinois Extension. “We recently lost a potential employee due to the fact that she lost access to daycare for her child. She has a special needs child, she needed daycare, she thought she had it arranged so she could go back to work and it fell through, and there are not a lot of places that will not accept a special needs child.”
Currently, there are 22 daycares in Monmouth. There are 18 home-based daycares surrounding the community, while four of them are centers. This may seem like a good amount of options for a small town of 8,000, but most of these daycares are home daycares that only take approximately 5-8 children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2021), Monmouth’s population of infants (zero-to-nine-years-old) is around 12% of the population, or over 900 children under the age of nine. Altogether, Monmouth’s home daycares can only hold between 90-144 children, which means that the community can only provide childcare for about 10% of its infant population. Though it is important to note that a portion of these children may not need daycare since some parents may stay at home.
One of the 18 home daycares located in Monmouth is Kimberly Cook’s Daycare. According to daycare service provider websites Winnie.com and Carelulu.com, Cook cares for a max of eight children ranging from zero months to 12 years old from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday through Friday. She also offers summer daycare.
Cook is currently caring for six children: two infants, three toddlers, and one school-age child. At this time, she has no waitlist because she has two extra spots open, but in the past, she has had to put people on her waitlist.
The biggest issue Cook sees in Monmouth’s childcare system is the lack of infant care. “There is a high demand for infants,” said Cook. “I got a call last week, the baby wasn’t even born yet, but [the parents] were already trying to reserve a spot. We need more daycare providers in Monmouth, especially for infants.”
Even with the high demand for infant care, Monmouth is seeing fewer in-home providers. “There’s three or four of them who are gonna be retiring soon because they’ve been doing it a long time,” said Sam Brooks, CEO of the Warren County YMCA. “And, as of now anyway, there doesn’t seem to be a crop of young in-home providers coming in behind them.
One of the difficulties with meeting this need is that the state of Illinois has strict regulations regarding childcare.
Illinois has specific requirements for providing care to children under 18 months. In Illinois, individuals must apply for a daycare license through the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. Providers also need a director-certified professional on-site to offer a daycare program. The director needs to be at least 21 years of age with a high school diploma or GED and meet one of the other few requirements usually by a two-year degree involving childcare.
Also there are specific requirements for those providing daycare to children with special needs: activities relating to those needs, suitable space and equipment for safe and independent play, and the child/staff ratio determined by the supervising agency and child’s functioning age.
“I’m sure there’s a number of reasons, but quite frankly and quite bluntly, those positions just don’t pay that great. It’s hard to pay what they deserve because you can’t charge parents enough to make sure that people get paid enough,” said Brooks.
The YMCA’s current facility cannot meet the state requirements for expanding childcare options without higher cost. However, that is not to say that the YMCA has not considered alternative options. “If we purchased a building that had a good size right now, and it was off-site,” said Brooks. “To get it up to code and up to where it needed to be to meet state regulations, you’re talking, I mean it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it to where it needs to be, which a lot of times makes it cost prohibitive.” Brooks also mentioned that there have been discussions about building a center on their own campus, but the building alone could cost $750,000.
The lack of childcare is an obstacle to many working parents in the area. There is concern that this lack of access to childcare could have negative effects down the line.
“At some point, my fear is it’s gonna get to the point where there’s just not going to be options for young families and we’re gonna start losing young families,” said Brooks. “And every small community has to have young families in order to thrive. They just have to. Otherwise, the town just continues to age and gets older and then eventually dries up.”
Brooks’ own son and daughter-in-law recently struggled to find a daycare service with openings for their three-week-old son and had to go to a provider 14 miles away. “We just need more,” said Brooks. “We need more providers.”
The Jamieson Community Center (JCC) is starting its very own daycare. According to 99.7 WMOI, the community center has plans to renovate the former Knights of Columbus (KC) Hall in Monmouth “for assisting the local community with childcare needs.”
“The need for childcare in our community was identified and Jamieson Community Center purchased the KC Hall with funds from Pattee Foundation,” said Melissa Johnston, Public Relations Coordinator at JCC. “The building will have to be renovated in order to meet state and federal requirements. We have retained Estes Construction and are working on some plan revisions. We have no timeline for when that might open, but we are moving forward.”
Their plan for their childcare age range is from six weeks to 12 years old. Although it is not as young as some of the home daycares, it will be the only center able to take infants.
Karen Fredrick, Bailey Shimmin, AJ Walker