Issues surrounding long waitlists for child care centers affecting southeastern NC, causing some to quit jobs to look after their kids

As our population grows in southeastern North Carolina, it’s putting the pressure on child care centers that are running out of room to accept more children.
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 9:54 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Families across the country are likely familiar with the struggle of finding childcare centers for their kids, with some finding themselves on a waiting list for years and others being forced to quit their jobs to take care of their kids.

As our population grows in southeastern North Carolina, it’s putting pressure on childcare centers that are running out of room to accept more children.

We’re told that across the nation the struggles with long childcare waitlists are due to the ratio between kids and staff. Most facilities stop taking new applications because they don’t have the manpower to care for any more children.

Childcare centers have a set capacity to maintain a safe and manageable environment for the children in their care. Once it reaches maximum capacity, it cannot accept more children until spots become available.

The regional director of a child care center based in Wilmington says that they need more facilities, but what they really need is more staff.

“I’m seeing long wait lists, we have 28 on our waitlist for infants right now. But every room was on a waitlist for us. I think that’s really true across the board, I get calls from families every day that are saying that they’ve called around and people are saying wait lists are up to two years long now,” said Meaghan Biddle, the regional director for Primrose Schools of Wilmington.

Biddle said that Primrose Schools of Wilmington is opening a new location in September to help reduce the long waitlists and she heard that other schools are trying to do the same.

For those who work all day and have kids too young to attend school, you’re not left with many options.

According to a recent report, North Carolina is one of the top states where families need to make job changes because of childcare issues. The annual cost to send a toddler to a center is almost $10,000. For some, they’re prepared for the cost of child care, but the issue is getting them off of the waitlist.

New Hanover County’s child care health consultant has tips if parents and community members are struggling to get their children into child care.

“The first option they have is to utilize half-day programs as opposed to the full-day programs, sometimes they have a little bit more availability. The second thing they can do is reach out to community partners. I work directly with Smart Start and they have a great resource person that can connect community members to daycares that might be available,” said Crystal Demaree, child care health consultant for New Hanover County.

Demaree’s best advice is to be patient, persistent and open to exploring different options to find the best childcare solution for your child.

Candice Croteau, a mother of five, just had her baby girl back in May and applied for childcare centers the day she found out she was pregnant, but still has had no luck in finding a place with availability.

Croteau had two more weeks of maternity leave until she had to go back to work, where she cared for developmentally disabled adults. After a year of trying to get into childcare, she still couldn’t get a spot in time. It left her with no other option than to quit her job.

She lives in Leland and says that even the drop-in centers won’t take her newborn baby.

“I was supposed to return to work in two weeks from yesterday and I had to call my employer and actually resigned from my position. It was stressful, it was overwhelming and there were times it just made me cry. I thought how am I gonna be able to do this without being able to do my portion to provide for my family,” said Croteau.

Croteau said that she’s not going to give up on her search for a child care center, but she’s exhausted and just wants the community to come together and help each other out when it comes to watching their kids.