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The lack of available and affordable childcare is one of the biggest barriers for parents returning to or succeeding in jobs. WNIN's Sarah Kuper spoke with parents, non-profit organizers and lawmakers about the problem.

Southwest Indiana Mothers Help Each Other Navigate Child Care Shortage

SWIN Child Care 2 noodles
Diana Reagon-Sallee

Emily Opell, a Warrick County school teacher, started an Evansville/Newburgh moms Facebook group several years ago because she wanted a place to ask for advice about new-mom stuff.

The Facebook group, one of dozens of on-line, mom-support groups in southwestern Indiana, now has nearly seven thousand members. Women post about developmental milestones worries, mental health questions, and financial and family struggles. During the formula shortage, moms took to the group to share intel on when new shipments would hit store shelves. They offered to donate their own breastmilk. Collectively, strangers helped strangers keep area babies fed. While the formula shortage is resolving, Emily says the most pervasive need remains:

“Three posts a day of people seeking childcare. Not just seeking, desperately seeking childcare. Like willing to drive to Chandler.”

Looking for a safe, affordable daycare with some educational component is often described by area moms as searching for a “unicorn”. Opell found one for her baby and was able to get in but only because

“It happened because my older son who is six now and in kindergarten was still on the list so it gave me a little bit of a bump up. So I had never gotten a call since he was one.”

Increasingly, in-home daycares are a popular option. Whether out of necessity or preference for a smaller environment, sending a child into someone else’s home can also be that daycare “unicorn”.

“That's one of the things about having an unlicensed daycare. I have the flexibility to do that - if we decide we want to go on a bug hunt or flower hunt, we say 'okay let's go on a bug hunt.' Your kids will be treated like family.”

That’s Diana Reagon-Sallee. Her in-home daycare is more affordable than some larger centers, even though she has had to raise her rates recently – and she sees it as a teaching and ministry opportunity. It all started because Diana, a single mom with children of her own – also couldn’t afford day care.

“Childcare is expensive. It is expensive to have, expensive to pay for. I did have to raise my rates. When cheese goes up two dollars and a gallon of milk costs three dollars and I buy six gallons of milk a week, I had to raise my rates."

The two moms say they don't know what the answer is but they are working to figure it out. Diana gathers information from fellow moms and Emily contacts state representatives.

“Maybe if a few more centers opened up, or what about a room in a high school for babies of teachers? Again, I don't know where the funding would come from but it would make a big difference in a lot of people's lives.”

In tandem with Indiana’s new near-ban on abortions, lawmakers have allocated $45 million dollars to supporting women and the child care shortage. But it is still unclear how that money will be distributed and when parents may see relief. But until then, Emily and Diana say, tri-state mothers have each other:

“I try to go out of my way with this moms group because we understand, that struggle could be me, it isn’t right now, but it easily could be.”