LEXINGTON — The word on the street in Dawson County, especially Lexington, is the lack of daycare and childcare options available to families. As a duel income becomes increasingly necessary among families, the question of where to find quality childcare becomes paramount.
In Lexington there are 18 licensed daycare operators through the Department of Health and Human Services, DHHS. Of this number 15 will care for children who are six weeks old. Two of these are preschools run by Grace Lutheran Church and the First United Methodist Church.
The maximum capacity of all the daycares in Lexington is 211. According to the 2010 census information, out of a population of 10,230, there are 993 children under the age of five residing in Lexington. Around 700 children would not have access to daycare if they required it.
In Cozad there are 11 DHHS licensed daycares, seven which handle children six weeks of age, the maximum capacity of these daycares which care for infants 179. According to the latest census information, 317 children under age five live in Cozad.
Cozad Elementary Afterzone ensures students have a place to go after school and can take up to 180 students.
Gothenburg currently has nine licensed daycares, five of these take on six week old children. The YMCA of the Prairie also offers an after school program aimed at students. Capacity of these daycares who care for infants is 203, while 251 children under five live in town.
Lexington, a town of over 10,000 people, has no daycare centers. Cozad and Gothenburg, communities with a population of over 3,000, both have daycare centers.
"It’s a statewide issue," Dawson Area Development Executive Director Andrea McClintic said about the availability of childcare, "it is almost as bad as housing. It’s not the lack of choice, it is the lack of, period."
McClinitic said as soon as some women learn they are pregnant, they begin looking for childcare options because it could take at least nine months to secure childcare.
Early Learning Academy Director Tracy Naylor said there is a lack of childcare options in Lexington, she hears it commonly from her peers on social media. While there are several in-home daycares in town, Lexington has no daycare center. "There is talk about if the school can help alleviate this, but the funds are not there right now," she said.
Lexington Public Schools already offers an Afterschool program which over 400 middle school students take advantage of. Lexington Academy is open to elementary students but is limited in the number it can take on. LPS also offers breakfast before school to students as well as summer meals at several of the campuses.
The lack of childcare options has prompted several local organizations to begin talking about how they could help. Father Matt Koperski of St. Ann’s Catholic Church said there many families with young children and young couples in his parish and has heard many express concerns about their lack of childcare options.
"Childcare is an issue for a lot of people, they want growthful and enriching care for their children," Koperski said.
St. Ann’s Catholic Church is considering making changes to St. Ann’s Parish Center on the east side of town and church members are wondering if a childcare component shouldn’t be added. No decision has been made yet, said Koperski, while the need is there, there are many DHHS requirements and codes which need to be met in order to start a childcare facility.
The church council members of the First United Methodist Church also expressed interest in potentially starting another childcare option in addition to the Shining Star Preschool which the church operates.
Pastor Anne Gahn said at the latest council meeting she has heard about the lack of options from around the community and it is affecting many people.
The Orthman Community YMCA is also interested in the childcare situation. Director Riley Gruntorad said conversations are in the, "very early stages," but the YMCA understands the childcare need.
Gruntorad said the YMCA is one of the largest daycare providers in the country. "We are here to build a better community, this is one way we could do that."
If it’s not a daily question on social media, then it is every other day, Gruntorad said of people asking about childcare options in the county. "There is a huge need," he said.
In an effort to effectively serve the community, Gruntorad said the YMCA is "very interested," in providing more childcare options, but are at least a year out from doing so.
The biggest question for them is where to host a daycare, he said. The Orthman Community YMCA building itself is not an option, the recreational space is used heavily by the community. Finding a new location means bringing it up to DHHS code and regulations, he said. Finding the right people to provide care is also vital.
This summer the YMCA plans to gather more data about childcare and the people who need access to it. "It’s something we definitely want to look into, we want to set the ball rolling," Gruntorad said.
"It would make sense for the YMCA to do this," Gruntorad said, "but partnerships are key, we need to come together on a big issue like this."
In Nebraska, according to DHHS, anyone who provides childcare to four or more children from different families must be licensed. There are five types of licenses, Family Child Care Home I, Family Child Care Home II, Child Care Center, Preschool and School Age-Only Center.
Those interested in running a family home daycare must comply with DHHS requirements, which feature 49 pages of regulations. State Fire Marshal requirements must also be met.
Child Centers are also subject to more requirements, including health and sanitation codes, which include everything from refrigerator, sink and dishwasher rules. A daily schedule must be created and adhered to.
DHHS has designated the Nebraska Department of Education Early Childhood Training Center, ECTC , as the statewide coordinator of childcare resources and referral. The ECTC works with other agencies inside the state to offer more resources and services to families.
Those with questions about finding childcare options in Nebraska can contact Dena Johnson, resource and referral assistant at 402-557-6886. Information can be provided about assistance with online DHHS child care roster, interviewing prospective child care providers, child care disciplinary action reports, Title XX subsidy information and military child care information.