Knoxville, Tenn. (WVLT) — Three of Knox County’s largest child care centers are understaffed, forcing them to turn families into waiting lists.
Georgia Kelley of Powell United Methodist Childcare Center said, “Since COVID, we can’t have staff. It’s just pulling teeth.
She told WVLT News that they can’t get anyone to apply for a job and if they do, they might not show up for interviews. They dramatically increased wages. Asked for a figure, Kelley said she wouldn’t elaborate. But due to the shortage of manpower, they had to close some rooms.
According to the Tennessee Department of Social Services website, the Powell United Methodist Childcare Center is licensed for 215 children and babies six weeks to 13 years old. But right now, Kelley said they average 100 kids.
“I’m full,” Kelley said, explaining that she doesn’t have the staff to maintain state-mandated teacher-to-child ratios.
“I’ve never had this problem before and I’ve been here for 40 years,” Kelley said.
She explained how some children had been on the waiting list for over a year.
The owner and director of the Morning Star Child Development Center echoed many of Kelley’s thoughts. After thirty-two years of running the daycare, Tara Ghorashi said she has never had such difficulty finding qualified people.
Ghorashi said it was “extremely difficult” to find and hire assistant teachers. Morning Star is able to maintain its capacity of over 200 children, but with “difficulty”.
“It seems like people don’t want to work at all or they don’t want to work in childcare,” Ghorashi said.
This led to Morning Star having a waiting list as well.
Misty Larue of Central Baptist Weekday Education Programs said she has an authorized capacity of 391 children, but currently has 124, ranging from 6-week-olds to fifth graders.
“I had to turn people away because I didn’t have staff coverage,” Larue said. Central Baptist has a waiting list that usually only has infants, but Larue explained right now that it’s for all ages of children.
She also had to close a room or two because they were understaffed.
She said they couldn’t compete with Chick-Fil-A and Target, but Larue said she tried to remind future employees that they were closed on weekends and holidays and at 6 p.m. .
With the help of Indeed, Facebook and word of mouth, she said they are fortunately building staff. Something she thought might be “pure luck.”
“Hopefully we see a light,” Larue said.
But a West Knoxville mother said the search for daycare was “exhausting”.
Alicia Strange and her husband work full time. They have 16-month-old twins who had nannies, but one developed health issues and the other graduated from college, leaving them to turn to daycare.
She tried to call the one her eldest daughter attended ten years ago, but was told 2023 would be the soonest possible. She thought it was just daycare’s problem, thinking maybe she had gained popularity.
“We called other places. 2023, 2023, maybe 22, but you’re looking at six months and I was like what’s going on,” Strange said.
She realized that there had been an influx of people moving to Knoxville and that the pandemic had turned many people away from working with children.
“It was tough, it was tough,” Strange said.
She said the twins were on nearly a dozen daycare waiting lists for four months.
“We drove them crazy. Like we called, and called and just “hey, it’s us again, we just want to remind you that we’re still here.”
They finally got into one because two families left the state.
“The perseverance is the one thing that I think probably helped us was because we’d called so many times that they were probably like we remembered this family,” Strange explained.
She and Larue advised parents to get on multiple waiting lists, even if someone is pregnant and knows they will eventually need daycare, start looking now.
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