Demand for child care outpaces services in area communities

April 12, 2018

This piece is presented by the Minnehaha County and Lincoln County Economic Development Associations.

Beth Hanna can provide care for 270 school-age and preschool children at her business in Brandon, Building Blocks Childcare and Learning Center. She gets four to 10 calls and emails a week from people wondering about openings, but Building Blocks isn’t adding customers.

“We’re full, and we’re working off a waiting list. We can’t take any more kids until probably January of 2019,” said Hanna, who in 2017 was named South Dakota’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The demand for child care is high, but the demand for quality care is even higher,” she said.

Providing child care is an increasing need and growing business in the Sioux Falls area, and some communities near Sioux Falls are taking creative approaches to expanding or improving services.

In Hartford, for example, the Hartford Area Development Corporation and the city issued a request for proposals to develop child care services on up to six parcels of land. Three proposals have advanced for further consideration, said Jesse Fonkert, executive director for the development organization and the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, civic leaders in Garretson are finalizing plans to build a $777,000 facility to merge and expand two  nonprofit child care centers. Construction is expected to begin about July 1, said project volunteer Kris Frerk. The project has been in in the planning stages for about three years.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Frerk said. “We’re getting a new day care center!”

Nick Fosheim, executive director of the Minnehaha County and Lincoln County Economic Development Associations, said population growth in communities and South Dakota’s high proportion of dual-income households are among the factors contributing to rising demand for child care services. Communities such as Hartford and Garretson are stepping up to the challenge, he said.

“It’s good to see them taking an innovative approach rather than waiting for someone to solve the problem for them,” he said.

Cayla Rush is the past president of the Siouxland Association of Child Care Directors, a trade organization for the leaders of child care centers in Sioux Falls and other towns in the two-county area. She also owns Precious Angels Learning Center in Sioux Falls, which cares for 111 children up to age 5.

Her center gets about five calls a day from people looking for services.

“There’s really a need for high-quality child care centers,” she said. “I would not say the child care need is being met in Sioux Falls.”

Other communities in the area seem to need more child care services, too, she said.

“From what we hear from neighboring towns, there just isn’t enough,” Rush said. A lot of parents from other towns seem to depend on child care services in Sioux Falls. “We are excited about the growth of child care in the surrounding communities,” she said.

The Helpline Center in Sioux Falls annually helps about 1,000 people in the four-county metropolitan area find child care. For census purposes, the Sioux Falls metro area officially includes McCook and Turner counties as well as Lincoln and Minnehaha counties. A majority of the calls and online inquiries about child care that are made to the Helpline Center come from Sioux Falls.

“It’s a very important issue from an economic development standpoint. If your employees can’t find child care, they’re not going to be able to focus on their jobs or come to work,” said Betsy Schuster, vice president of program development at the Helpline Center.

Weekday care is most common need of people who contact the HelpLine Center. But after-school care appears to be an area need that is particularly hard to meet, Schuster said. New parents should realize that finding child care might take longer than they realize, she said.

She has personal experience in the difficulty of finding child care. She called a center in Sioux Falls during the first trimester of her pregnancy and learned that it had a yearlong waiting list. She found the care she wanted at a new center in Baltic, which opened a month before her child was born.

Finding good workers at modest levels of pay is a significant challenge for some centers.

“Getting kids isn’t the challenge any more. It’s getting staff – good quality staff,” said Tyson Wharton, director of the Tea Tots Childcare Center in Tea.

Tea Tots is one of four centers in Tea that is licensed to care for 21 or more children. Tea Tots can provide care for 142 children, from infants to 12-years-olds. It has openings for a couple of older children, Wharton said.

“I would say there’s enough (care providers) in Tea right now. There’s not a whole lot of waiting lists like there is in Sioux Falls,” Wharton said.

Travis Hendrix opened Tiger Tots in Harrisburg eight years ago to care for infants through 12-year-olds. Three years ago, he added another center, Tigers in Training, for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. During the summer months, the two centers probably serve 280 kids.

Hendrix’s centers have two 72-passenger buses to transports kids to the child care facilities.

There has been so much growth on the southern side of Sioux Falls that some people find it easier to live in Harrisburg. The community has become home to a lot of young families with children, perhaps because housing and taxes might be less expensive than in Sioux Falls, Hendrix said.

Population growth is creating issues for schools in Sioux Falls and other towns as well as increasing demand for child care centers. Demand for those services will continue to rise as the population of towns such as Harrisburg keeps growing.

“We get calls daily to see if we have room for babies,” Hendrix said. People start calling as soon as they become aware of a pregnancy, he said.


Child care by communities

The majority of regulated child care providers in Lincoln and Minnehaha counties are in Sioux Falls. However, child care is also a growing business in several smaller towns.

The state breaks down child care providers into four registered or licensed categories:

  • Registered family day care homes for up to 12 children.
  • Licensed group family day care homes for 13 to 20 children.
  • Licensed day care centers for 21 or more children.
  • Licensed before- and after-school care for school-age children.

Sioux Falls has a total of 243 child care providers, including 68 centers with the capacity to serve 21 children or more, according to state government data.

Here are comparable numbers for other communities in the two-county Sioux Falls area. The first number is the total providers of all types; the second figure is the number of centers that can serve 21 or more children.

  • Brandon – 17; 5.
  • Harrisburg – 13; 4.
  • Tea – 12; 4.
  • Dell Rapids – 12; 3.
  • Hartford – 7; 4.
  • Lennox – 7; 1.
  • Canton – 5; 1.
  • Baltic – 4; 2.
  • Garretson – 3; 1.
  • Crooks – 2; 1.
  • Worthing – 2; 0.
  • Colton – 1; 0.
  • Humboldt – 1; 0
  • Renner – 1; 0.


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Demand for child care outpaces services in area communities

Some communities are taking creative approaches to expanding or improving child care services to meet growing demand.

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