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'Childcare desert' in Dodge County nearly four times worse than in Milwaukee County

Posted at 5:30 AM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 07:53:53-04

BEAVER DAM — Where your children go when you are working matters. This is why childcare deserts are so concerning to find in rural areas.

We took a look at what parents are up against in Dodge County.

According to the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, 15 percent, or 25,000 childcare slots have temporarily or permanently closed statewide. Since the start of the pandemic in Dodge County, three daycare locations are gone for good. Much of this is being blamed on a worker shortage.

Cassi Hurst is a working mother of two. She relies heavily on her 13-month-old daughter’s daycare in Beaver Dam.

“For me to be able to work at all, which is what I enjoy doing, I have to have daycare to be able to take my kids, make sure they’re taken care of,” said Hurst.

But leaders at her daughter's daycare called Community Care Pre-School & Childcare cannot find enough staff to even think about expansion. In fact, Renae Henning just began typing out a letter to send to parents that, “We can’t find qualified people.”

Henning adds that if two of her workers called in sick, “I would have to close a classroom, I wouldn’t have enough. I wouldn’t have enough people.”

“I can’t even imagine losing the care that I have for my kids right now and not having a safe place for them to go,” said Hurst.

Meanwhile in Juneau, Tricia Peterson, owner of Future All Star's Academy says many parents call each week looking for childcare.

"The turnover rate in our profession is just a revolving door," Peterson says.

She says money is the biggest reason for workers leaving.

According to the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, the average pay for early childhood and education workers is $10.66 per hour.

“I’m looking for 2-year and 4-year degrees and it's like a unicorn to find,” said Henning.

With options dwindling, Dodge County joins dozens of the Wisconsin counties located in what’s known as a childcare desert, meaning there are not enough childcare providers to handle the number of kids needing care.

According to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau and Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Dodge County has a 32 to 1 ratio of children under five licensed to facilities, compared to Milwaukee County with a ratio of 8.5 to 1.

So what is the solution? Peterson says, “I think it comes back to the infrastructure of the state until we can pay our teachers more money which all trickles down to better care and better quality people nothings going to change.”

Henning hopes people become more attracted to living in rural communities like Beaver Dam, “I love this town for raising a family. To me there’s just a calmness about a small town.”