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In Rural New York, Child Care Is Getting Harder To Come By

The search for quality day care is getting increasingly difficult as small, independent operations are closing.
Marc Romanelli
Getty Images
The search for quality day care is getting increasingly difficult as small, independent operations are closing.

Good day care can be hard to find, especially in rural areas. Low population density means commercial day care centers are rare, so a lot of parents rely on smaller child cares run out of peoples' homes. In one New York county, those family-run establishments are disappearing.

Teri Brogdale lives on a quiet street, near the edge of town. But inside, her house is pretty lively — she runs a day care called Teri's Little Angels.

Brogdale has been at this for almost 23 years. But now she's getting out of the day care business. She's ready to retire.

"I'm burned out. Twenty-three years — I'm ready. I'm tired," she says.

In rural Tioga County where Brogdale lives, many of the day care providers are just like her — they've been at this a long time, and they want to retire. But very few new family child cares are starting up to replace the ones that are closing.

That's the case elsewhere in the U.S., too. The number of family child care facilities dropped about 12 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent report. Over the same period, commercial day cares also declined by about 4 percent.

Even with the recent economic rebound, the day care industry still struggles. As people started going back to work, women in particular were finding low-wage work — "shift work, hospitality jobs that weren't affording them the high price of child care," says Mary Beth Testa, a lobbyist for the National Association for Family Child Care.

Testa says tight budgets hit family child cares especially hard because they're so small. Lynette Brind knows all about that. She's one of the brave few starting a new family child care in Tioga County. Right now she has one customer and no other income beyond child support for her three daughters.

"I run the house on $200 a week. We go without," she says, "but we make it work".

It was an eight-month ordeal to start her day care. She had to get her water tested, and undergo a radon test — and she failed both.

"You have to bleach your system when the water test fails, and it ruined my hot water heater so I had to spend five days replacing this element that exploded in the bottom," she says.

It's common for regulatory hurdles like these ones to discourage potential newcomers, says Ann Shear, Tioga County's liaison for day care providers. Many states, including New York, have tightened the rules for family child care lately.

"The application keeps getting bigger and bigger and longer and longer, and it's a little bit overwhelming when they open up that booklet and see 60 pages," she says.

But Shear says the county really needs people who are willing to follow the rules and then some. The area needs quality programs, not simply a place to take kids.

Shear says demand for child care is holding steady. And if she can't find new ways to recruit those quality providers, the county could have a real crisis on its hands.

Copyright 2015 WSKG News

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