Child care shortage is particularly difficult for parents in rural and on-reserve communities


According to a recent report by South Dakota Kids Count, a nonprofit data center, seven counties in South Dakota have no state-registered child care programs. A News Watch analysis of state data shows that in an 11-county region of north-central South Dakota, an area of ​​19,000 square miles north of Pierre to the west of the Montana border with approximately 32,000 people, there are only 16 registered children. care programs, most of which are small home centers with 12 or fewer places for children.

Finding open day care spaces for children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has always been a challenge, with waiting lists for open spaces rampant.

But getting child care has been even more difficult during the pandemic, according to Stacey Marrufo, supervisor at the Kyle Learning Center in Kyle, SD.

Depending on the level of community spread of COVID-19, the federally-funded community center may need to close or severely restrict child admissions, Marrufo said.

Even before the pandemic, parents had to scramble to find open child care spaces so they could continue working, she said. When spaces are limited due to COVID-19, many parents have to call on relatives or stay at home to care for the children.

“There just aren’t enough daycare centers and programs here to cover our working parents and guardian parents,†Marrufo said. “It’s basically for workers, and it’s a real need, but there are so many parents who need accommodations and we’re really limited here.”

The child care crisis has worsened on South Dakota’s reservations due to the temporary shutdown of federal head start programs, which provide subsidized care to children ages birth to 5 in low-income families. , according to Pigeon Big Crow, director of the Oglala Sioux tribe. child care program.

With Head Start centers closed and no private childcare available on reservation, working parents are forced to seek places for their children in the tribal childcare system, which could not meet childcare needs. of children on reservation before the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Crow said.

The pandemic has reduced childcare capacity at the six federally funded OST tribal daycares to zero at times, and to about half by mid-December, she said. The tribe supplemented their day care centers by providing federal funding as well as training and regulation to more than 100 home providers on the reserve, she said.

But the home system faltered during the pandemic as home service providers suspended or ceased operations due to fears of the spread of COVID-19 among adults and children. With the closure of Head Start and restricted registrations at OST child care centers, the situation has gone into crisis mode on reservation, Big Crow said.

Home care providers who undergo training and regulation are paid for their services but do not receive insurance or other benefits, making the work less attractive to many on-reserve residents, she said.

Some booking parents have to drive their children long distances for safe childcare, then commute to work and then return to pick up the children before returning home, sometimes a daily round trip two hours, Big Crow said.

The tribe’s strict COVID-19 rules, put in place to protect vulnerable residents from the coronavirus, have added to the challenges for working parents, Big Crow said. OSI centers and home providers must refuse any child showing symptoms of illness, she said.

“If your kid wakes up with a runny nose, you’ll have to stay home and take care of them, so parents scramble at the last minute to make this work,†Big Crow said.

Some parents decide it’s not worth the cost or worth to get child care and stop working as a result, further compounding the economic problems in families and communities on reserve, Big Crow said.

“Daycare is expensive, and it’s a lot of work to get, and being able to trust that your child is being looked after while you’re at work, some people just aren’t worth it to keep working.” , she said.

Some working families also earn too much money to qualify for subsidized child care, which can also be a deterrent to staying in the workforce, Big Crow said. In the absence of private day care centers and openings in the tribal system, these parents have to find providers themselves at home, which can be difficult or result in the placement of children in unregulated child care situations.

Some relief could come in the spring of 2022 when a new OST daycare opens in Pine Ridge, creating spaces for up to 60 infants and toddlers, and after-school spaces for up to 100 children.

Unreserved rural areas and small towns also face major challenges in accessing child care services.

Rachel Talich runs a home day care center in Murdo and is said to be the sole provider of child care services in Jones County, SD

Rachel Talich

Rachel Talich

Talich, 40, was a social worker, but decided to start a daycare when she and her husband had a second child about two years ago.

With a full roster of 12 children at all times and around $ 25 per day per child, Talich said she made a similar salary to what she earned as a social worker. “I’m always full here,†she said.

But Talich noted that other home providers in the Murdo area recently closed because they were concerned about COVID-19, found the work too tedious, or didn’t earn enough money to justify the stress.

“It’s a difficult area to integrate; it’s a lot of stress, â€she said. “You are dealing with up to 12 different personalities a day, you have crying babies and some are more difficult to pacify than others, so it can get difficult.”

Talich said she especially enjoys spending time with the children and is happy to watch them play, grow and develop.

She also realizes the importance of her role in the small farming and tourism town of central South Dakota.

“I know I’m the only daycare in the county, so unfortunately if we have COVID, or disease, and I have to shut down, you can tell it puts a lot of pressure on families,†she said. . “A lot of them, when I close, they shoot with friends or families, and some parents just have to take a few days off.â€

Talich said she would support any program that provides funding to parents or providers to reduce the cost of child care for families. She also hopes that child care workers will gain more respect for the important work they do, which may encourage more young people to enter the field.

“It is important that it be seen as a necessary and important profession,†said Talich. “They might think, ‘Oh, she’s just a daycare nanny, but I have a bachelor’s degree in education, and that’s the choice I make so I can stay home and raise my daughter. “

Allyssa Kinsley is one of Talich’s clients and drops off her daughter, Allie, at daycare usually three days a week.

Kinsley is an emergency room nurse at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre, where she commutes one hour each way for three 12-hour shifts per week.

In less than three years since her birth, Allie has had six different daycare centers, Kinsley said. Each time, Kinsley had to scramble to find a new provider when home care services in the area shut down for one reason or another.

“We had a hard time with day care centers in our town,†said Kinsley, who moved from Iowa to Murdo in 2015 when her husband, who grew up in Murdo, got a job as a bank loan officer in town. . “It was very difficult, but I was lucky to have been able to find someone new at each closure.”

Kinsley said his struggle to maintain good quality child care is similar to that of his colleagues in Pierre, even though the town is much larger. Some colleagues who are also mothers have to use all of their paid free time to care for children during holidays or illnesses rather than taking time off for vacation, Kinsley said.

“It’s very consuming,” she said. “It puts real stress on you. “

Kinsley said that unless new child care options are created in Murdo or other small towns, populations in rural South Dakota may continue to decline and economies may continue to struggle.

“It is more difficult for young families to come back because there is no one to look after their children,†she said. “If you had a good job in a small town, what would you do? You would have to take another job or stay at home.

A Murdo company, the Rusty Spur Steakhouse, is adjusting to the child care shortage by allowing employees to bring their kids to work so parents can stay at work and the restaurant can stay open.

Deanna Dunker is a mom of two who is a restaurant waitress, and she brings her kids to the steakhouse after they finish school so she can finish her shifts, which usually end at 4 or 5. time. The children, ages 4 and 5, stay safe in the upstairs portion of the restaurant while Dunker works.

“We have them upstairs so they don’t get in the way, so it works pretty well. Dunker said. “It’s just kind of a way to make it work.”

Dunker said she might not be able to work if her employer didn’t offer the after-school option. “It’s difficult to have a daycare here and I really can’t afford it,†she said. “Otherwise, I would probably be a stay-at-home mom. “


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