SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Developmental Center of the Ozarks is one of many faced with the decision to close down this week after staff shortages made it impossible to care for children safely.
Executive Director Maria DeClue says it began with several exposures among children in the classroom, which then spread to staff, and was compounded by many of its employees’ family members also falling ill.
“We are finding ourselves at a point where there were no other options. It’s we’re either open and operating against licensing, honestly,” says DeClue
The childcare portion of the center will be closed from January 14th to January 23rd.
“We understand that that puts families in a lot of binds, but we also have to ensure the safety not only of that person’s child but everyone else’s children, as well as our staff and their families too,” she adds.
Typically, DCO has 32 to 35 staff members to consider the facility at full staff. Right now, they are hiring for 12 different positions.
DeClue says many directors like her are currently dealing with a Catch 22. She says by default, childcarers are having trouble keeping and hiring staff because many of them are having to stay home with their own children simply because they can’t find available childcare to enroll them in.
“The majority of the people that work in this field are female, and a lot of those are by default, staying home and taking care of their young children, our school-age children because of the lack of availability for child care. So it really is a Catch 22. It seems like we can never really quite get there,” DeClue says.
Since the pandemic, as positions opened up, it became difficult to fill them. Over the last 18 months, it’s progressively gotten worse.
“We had to do something, and really it is driven by the availability of staff.”
DCO is unique in that it offers childcare for kids with medical needs and disabilities, making it even tougher for parents to find adequate, alternative care.
“This is a very unique situation. We do hope that it passes very quickly and that people have that understanding that when we make that phone call to say your child needs to be picked up, that it’s understood that it’s not because we’re picking on your family, that it’s because we have to do the right thing and not just from a licensing standpoint, but from the fact that we care about your children.”
The facility will open again to children on January 24th, but DeClue says it won’t be a solution for many families who are currently searching for an open place to take their kids.
“As of Thursday morning, we had 250 kids on our waiting list,” says DeClue.
It’s what many parents in Springfield are discovering as they try to find a new space for their children to go to each week. Molly Sherman, a single parent in Springfield says her childcare facility has closed down twice since the new year.
“It’s hard because I’m a single mom and I don’t have any family in the area, so when they close, I have to try to find somebody else to watch her,” Sherman tells OzarksFirst on Friday. “Luckily, my work is pretty flexible, but if I have to stay home, I lose a paycheck.”
She says she called around to other facilities and so far, all of them are full.
“As far as the next few weeks go I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I haven’t found anybody yet,” Sherman says. “It’s hard. I’ve been in tears over it, but I know it’ll work out.”
For those wanting to apply at the Developmental Center of the Ozarks, you can search jobs here.
DeClue says DCO will be conducting virtual interviews with applicants next week while its childcare facility is closed.