JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) – Working parents in tornado-ravaged Joplin are finding it tougher to find child care after more than half of the licensed day care spaces in the city vanished after the May 22 twister.

The Joplin Globe reported Child Care Aware of Missouri, which helps families find child care, preschool and afterschool programs for their children, has found that the number of licensed day care spaces in Joplin fell from 1,997 before the tornado to 795 afterward. The group said the total number of day care providers in all categories fell from 84 to 44.

“We are receiving calls every day from people who are driving to Joplin to work,” Shea Vogt, owner of Curiosity Corner, told the newspaper. “They’re looking for a day care center somewhere in Joplin to take their children.”

Jill Michel is one of the lucky ones whose day care center came through the storm unscathed. Still, she said she knows many people weren’t so fortunate.

“I have a couple of different friends who lost their day care centers in the tornado,” Michel said. “I have been in on those conversations. To hear the numbers, well, it’s just staggering.

“What do parents do? If you are working, you have to have a place for your children.”

Vogt said the increased need has pushed her to seek a license to open a new center for 88 children in an empty storefront to serve people who are driving to work in Joplin from neighboring communities. She said it also would serve families that are living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers near Joplin Regional Airport.

Sarah Gould, owner of Learning Junction Education Center, said she has a waiting list much longer than before the tornado.

“We’re getting a lot of calls for spaces for 2-year-olds,” she said. “We have no spaces for 2-year-olds. But I could have some spaces soon for toddlers and infants.”

She said parents looking for child care should continue to contact Child Care Aware because some new day care centers are on the verge of getting licenses.

Things seem to be improving a little, said Robin Zellers, chief of community engagement for Child Care Aware.

“We are getting anecdotal reports from parents and providers who have relationships with us that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “There are day care centers that are rebuilding their programs on the same plot of land they had before.

“Some are taking this opportunity to move to a bigger facility to serve more children, but right now parents are still facing a lot of challenges when it comes to child care,” she said.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services relaxed rules governing day care centers after the storm to permit the surviving centers to handle more children than their permits allowed, but that was lifted Sept. 1.

Vogt was buying a new house when the tornado hit, but it was destroyed in the tornado. Instead of purchasing another one, she decided to stay in her current home and invest the money in a new day care center.

“Quality child care is a necessity,” she said. “Families displaced by the tornado are trying to go to work. They can’t without child care.”

Copyright Associated Press


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