NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Being able to find and afford childcare is a struggle for many Middle Tennessee families. The average cost in Tennessee is nearly $11,000 per year, according to data from the organization Childcare Aware of America. Many families report spending years on a waitlist.
However, there’s one daycare in Madison that’s been in operation for nearly 60 years, and it’s helping families navigate these challenges.
“We embrace everyone here. And we try to serve even if somebody can’t afford it here, we try to meet their meet them where they are,” said Rhonda Trumbo, Executive Director.
King’s Daughters Child Development Center offers childcare on a sliding scale based on income. 80% of their families get assistance. Trumbo said they do that through fundraising, help from United Way, and other grants.
“It’s a crisis. And it’s very, very challenging.” Trumbo said, “The stress level of the families and the children, since pandemic has been extraordinary.”
The center has about 80 children enrolled from ages six weeks to five-years-old. King’s Daughters has a waitlist for all ages. The longest is for the infant classroom, with 30 families on the list.
This situation is playing out at most childcare centers in Middle Tennessee.
“Some people are unaware that ‘I’ve been told I should have been on there, even before I even thought about having a baby.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, ma’am. That is where we’re at, especially in the Nashville area,’ but you’re kind of hearing it nationwide as well,” said Lee Earls, associate director at King’s Daughters.
She fields calls from parents who are desperate to find a spot for their child at a daycare.
“I’m even hearing from some places of that they have been told that they would be on a waitlist for two years. So it’s very demanding when they call, they want those answers. How long? When will it be? Can you promise that?” Earls continued, “You’re almost heartbroken because you’re like, ‘I cannot tell you.’ I mean, sometimes you can’t even estimate it out.”
Those who work at King’s Daughters would love to open more classrooms to serve more families, but the childcare industry is also facing a staffing shortage.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the industry has lost more than 126,000 workers since the start of the pandemic. That’s a more than 10% decline in the workforce.
The Labor Department also reports the median pay for childcare workers is $13.22/hour, or about $27,500/year. So, employees have left the field for a more lucrative job.
“There’s a lot of people who are looking at different fields, and making a big change. We’re also working really hard with our funders and our board and our grant writer to help bring up our pay, and our benefits and those kinds of things. Because early childhood educators have been overlooked for a very long time,” said Trumbo.
At the same time, inflation is driving up King’s Daughters” operating budge. Their food costs alone for the meals and snacks are up 35%.
Despite the challenges, childcare is Trumbo’s passion. She’s been doing it for more than 25 years. She continues to look for creative solutions to support kids, parents, and staff members through these trying times.