Workers who have no trouble soaring through applicant screening filters may still get tripped up by cracks in our societal structures. Challenges with child care, mental health and transportation have grown so large; they’re undercutting people who might otherwise thrive in the workforce. But 417-landers—businesses, individuals and nonprofits—are offering solutions.
1. Child Care
According to nonprofit Child Care Aware of Missouri (CCAMO), our state has lost 11,628 child care slots since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This loss is apparent in the anxiety of working parents. But while the need for child care feels acute at this moment, it’s been building for a long time. That’s the reason Robert Low, president and founder of Prime, Inc., created the Prime Kids Learning Center 23 years ago. In this in-house daycare facility, kids of Prime employees interact in the gym, classrooms and outdoor play space. The company cafeteria brings them breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks each day. On-site medical care and security set parents’ minds at ease.
Employees who utilize the Learning Center pay a weekly fee that’s in line with the cost of other Springfield, Missouri daycare programs. It offers extended hours—kids can arrive as early as 6 a.m. and stay as late as 6:30 p.m. for no extra charge. There are emotional benefits, too. Parents find comfort in knowing their children are well cared for, close by. And by being part of the Prime complex, kids get early exposure to the idea that work is a rewarding part of adult life. “I enjoy coming here every day, so I feel like exposing my kids to these interactions shows them that work can be fun,” Adam Mulligan, fixed asset analyst at Prime, says.
Anna Messick, director of the Learning Center, says the goal is to alleviate stress for employees. “Parents don’t have to worry about bringing lunch or anything,” she says. “It’s all provided here at Prime.” In a 24/7, 365-day business like transportation, this is particularly beneficial, Mulligan says, and it’s worth the financial cost Prime incurs for the Learning Center. Without an on-site solution like this one, working parents have to source child care on their own. Greene County’s licensed capacity is 9,303, according to CCAMO. That means there are 9,303 possible child care slots for the 13,112 kids under age 6 in our county who have working parents. And this shortfall of 3,809 child care slots is the best-case scenario, according to CCAMO CEO Robin Phillips. Child care workers are in such short supply right now that most programs are only able to operate at 65–70% of their capacity, Phillips says.
The equation gets even tougher in rural counties. In Barry County, for example, there are 161 slots for 1,075 kids under age 6 with working parents. That’s seven kids for each slot—assuming the programs were able to operate at full capacity. The Life360 Preschool hopes to alleviate some of this stress. As part of the Life360 Resource Center in Monett, the preschool offers affordable child care centered around the concept of family support. With an on-site family coordinator, parents get help with things like bedtime routines and vacation budgets.
Parents are required to work volunteer hours at the preschool, and although Life360 strives to keep costs low, there are fees. This structure reflects the organization’s philosophy that “everyone needs to contribute to the community,” according to Jeremy Hahn, executive vice president of Life360 Community Services. The organization is willing to help out with these costs through programs like “back to work” scholarships, which help parents cover the gap between the day they start a job and need child care and the day they receive their first paycheck. If a business wants to subsidize child care for an employee, it can fund a specific scholarship.
Like most child care centers, Life360 Preschool prioritizes serving kids who need full-time care. This makes sense; it’s the most efficient way to deploy precious resources and benefit the most people. But where does this leave part-time workers? Or people who have part-time help from a grandparent and need supplementary care? Or people who are willing to work unusual hours or extra shifts—if they can find child care?
Christina Ford hopes Kids Inn, a drop-in center that’s set to open this summer in Springfield, can provide a solution. As she envisioned Kids Inn, Ford drew on her own experience as a mom in Nashville, where she used drop-in care. When her husband became head coach of Missouri State University’s men’s basketball team, she saw the need for something similar in 417-land.
“Every family is different and has different needs,” Ford says. Once parents complete Kids Inn’s brief registration process, they can take advantage of the service whenever they need it. Spaces will be available on a first-come/first-served basis. And instead of requiring a weekly or monthly financial commitment, Kids Inn will operate as a “pay as you go” service. Since Kids Inn will be open until 8 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Ford hopes it will help parents plug gaps in their child care plans.