Traverse City News and Events

New Report Shows That Michigan's Child Care Crisis Is Worse Than Previously Thought

By Craig Manning | Sept. 3, 2022

A report published this week by the Detroit Free Press paints perhaps the most dire portrait yet of Michigan’s child care crisis. Specifically, the report notes that Michigan is home to twice as many “child care deserts” as previously thought, and that the state’s cumulative waitlist for child care slots now numbers in the tens of thousands. Perhaps most damning of all, for northern Michigan? Grand Traverse County has one of the longest child care waitlists in the entire state.

The Free Press report details the findings of Disappearing Day Care, “a 10-month-long investigation by MuckRock and a consortium of Michigan newsrooms.” MuckRock is a nonprofit organization that assists individuals and organizations in filing public record requests through the Freedom of Information Act and other relevant laws. The Disappearing Day Care investigation involved pulling records from Michigan’s child care licensing bureau, collecting testimonials from parents and child care providers throughout the state, and analyzing “new state child care data provided as part of pandemic federal relief programs.”

That process, the Free Press wrote, showed Michigan’s child care crisis to be “even worse than policymakers thought.”

For instance, a previous report done at the beginning of the pandemic by a Lansing nonprofit called the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) determined that the state had 11 counties that were “child care deserts.” A child care desert is defined as a county “where three children compete for every available slot at an in-home or group center.”

The Disappearing Day Care investigation determined that the MLPP estimate was inaccurate because the number of child care deserts was calculated “using the capacity of licensed child care facilities located in a particular county.” Every licensed child care facility in Michigan is allotted a certain “capacity” as part of its licensing, or a maximum number of children the facility can serve. However, those numbers don’t always reflect how many child care slots are actually available, as factors like understaffing or COVID precautions can limit slots below capacity.

The MLPP report estimated that Michigan had 373,000 day care slots available based on licensing capacity figures. The Disappearing Day Care investigation puts the number closer to 264,000. Using the updated figure, the Disappearing Day Care team found that 20 of Michigan’s 83 counties qualified as child care deserts, with another 23 counties “just rounding errors away” from joining their ranks.

The investigation also crunched the numbers for how many children and families in Michigan are currently on waiting lists for different child care facilities. That “cumulative statewide waiting list” includes more than 54,000 children.

On a region-by-region basis, meanwhile, northern Michigan has the worst crisis of any county and in the state. “On a population-adjusted basis, a waiting list of more than 3,200 was the longest, by far, in Grand Traverse County,” the Free Press wrote. The Free Press also claimed that “more than a third” of the child care facilities in Grand Traverse County have closed in the past three years.

Of course, waitlist figures can sometimes be just as misleading as day care capacity figures. Several local day care providers have previously told The Ticker that local waitlist numbers tend to be inflated, given the fact that parents will often put their kids on multiple waitlists to give themselves a better chance of finding care. Still, the portrait of Grand Traverse County as a child care desert aligns with what The Ticker heard from local providers in a February 2022 report.

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