Traverse City News and Events

Local Child Care Shortage Hits Critical Point

By Al Parker | Aug. 8, 2017

A scarcity of openings for child care in and around Traverse City has some center owners and parents looking for answers.

Locals say open spots are taken immediately, while at least one caregiver reports that she won’t have an opening for three years.

“All of my current positions are full, and my current families have siblings waiting for a spot here, so I won’t have an opening until September of 2020,” says Christine Bazzett, who operates Joyful Noise Daycare in Traverse City.

That’s similar to the situation at the Teddy Bear Day Care and Pre-School, which operates two locations, one on Bass Lake and a recently acquired Traverse City location. Earlier this year, Teddy Bear purchased the former Alphabet Soup center on Fourteenth Street. Between the two locations, the company will have 165 spots – all taken. “We’re filled to the max,” says Anna Fryer, the center’s director.

According to Child Care Aware of America (CCAA), Michigan has 444,000 children under the age of 6 potentially in need of child care, with only 394,000 spaces available.

Many cite the relative low pay and challenging work child care staff face as a key factor in the shortage.

According to CCAA, the 16,900 child care center workers in Michigan earn an average of $22,510 annually.

“You don’t get into child care to become rich,” says Fryer, who holds a masters degree in education. “It takes a special person. And we focus on providing quality care at reasonable prices.” According to Fryer, a study of day care rates in TC shows an average range of $35 to $60 per day. “We charge $38 a day for full-time,” she says. 

And the job is challenging. “Owners of child care homes or centers have all the hurdles of any small business owner or entrepreneur – funding, promotion, community relations, clients,” explains Bazzett. “But the biggest problem for providers is burnout, because the job is low pay but high liability, high stress, high responsibility, physically and emotionally demanding.”

There’s an exceptional shortage of day care for infants, who require more care, often have immediate needs, and come with additional liability. “Because of that, licensing limits the number of infants we can take, and that’s good,” adds Bazzett.

Bazzett is licensed by the state to care for 12 children, but in order to have more than six, she would have to hire an assistant, which she has chosen not to do. She cares for five youngsters full-time and four part-time. Because two of them are over 7 years old and related, they do not count toward her ratio.

One thing parents can do, Bazzett and others say, is plan ahead. “Too many parents don’t realize the problems of finding good child care until they need it and then are surprised to discover how difficult it is,” she says. “They need to be willing to pay more for the intensive care of a nanny to come to their house if they’re lucky enough to find one, or be willing to stay home with their infant until a spot opens up.”

One new program might help with the shortage of local child care options: The Bayview Child Care Center and Pre-school is slated to open Sept. 5 at Bay and Wayne Streets in TC, providing spots for 42 children, according to administrator Carly LaFreniere. Sixteen of the openings will be for infants (more info here).

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