Families left in a lurch with day care closing

ANGOLA — Caleb Maxeiner and his wife are quite possibly like a lot of people with young families in Steuben County.

Both Maxeiner and his wife, who did not want to be named for this story, work outside their Angola home. They don’t have nearby family to help care for their children.

Like many couples, they might have started looking for child care shortly after conception of their first child due to the long waiting lists at Steuben County day cares.

They found Fairview Missionary Church Day Care and were happy with the facility. But that soon will come to an end.

“We have grown very fond of the staff at Fairview Missionary Church Day Care and we know when we drop the children off that they’re safe,” Maxeiner said. “We also know they’re being taught well and have a huge playground. Trying to find comparable, adequate day care in this area is difficult. Throw in a short time frame before closing and it compounds the issue.”

Fairview could close as soon as four weeks, depending on whether it is able to hold on to its staff long enough to keep the doors open through the planned closing of Dec. 20.

“What it will mean to my family is a lot of stress,” Maxeiner said. “It just seems so out of the blue to close a program of this size. Now multiple families are trying to find day care for our children all at the same time.”

As of Tuesday, Fairview cared for 83 children from 56 families.

Most if not all local day care facilities — even home care facilities — have waiting lists. Heaven Sent Preschool at Calvary Lutheran Church in Angola has waiting lists as far out as August 2020 and as early as June 2020, depending on the age of the child.

And those waits listed on the facility’s Facebook page were posted before Fairview decided to close up shop on Friday.

“As we try and find new day care every single place we call asks if we are from Fairview as they tell us the estimated time we will find ourselves on a waiting list,” Maxeiner said.

Steuben County has had a child care and preschool shortage well before Fairview made its decision, data from children’s advocacy groups say. Fairview represents a large share of the capacity currently available in the county.

“There is a day care crisis in this area to begin with and now this is leaving many families scrambling to get on waiting lists or possibly hoping for the best with home run care or family members stepping in,” Maxeiner said.

In a 2018 report done by the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee, it was reported that 1,582 children from infant to 5 years old were in need of child care. The report said in 2016 there were 2,235 children ages 0-5 in the county and in 2017 there were 497 enrolled in known programs.

A report provided by the Steuben County Community Foundation said as of February 2019, there was child care capacity of 410 spaces in Steuben County. With 83 children, Fairview represented nearly 20% of the child care capacity in the county.

Quality child care and/or preschool is a economic development issue, too, said Isaac Lee, executive director of the Steuben County Economic Development Corp.

“Fact is, employees need various things for a work/life balance. Housing and day care are pretty high up on that list to give someone a sense security at home,” Lee said.

Housing and day care are something companies look for when scouting out new locations.

“When employers look for employees and they happen to find talent in today’s environment of low unemployment rate, two things in general emerge in conversations with those new employees. What housing may be available close to the employer and where will their children get care while they are at work,” Lee said.

In the past few years, Steuben County has seen a number of child care facilities and preschools close.

Those included facilities operated by Cameron Memorial Community Hospital, Steuben County YMCA and Assembly of God Church.

In the 1980s, there was a privately run daycare in Angola that later merged with the Cameron facility.

In recent years, the Steuben County Literacy Coalition has worked on building a preschool on its existing campus on South Wayne Street. That effort ended in early 2018 due to a lack of fundraising support.

Had it been built, the Literacy Coalition’s facility would have had capacity for 116 children and would have been a full-day program. It was going to follow a Montessori school curriculum.

Literacy Executive Director Breann Fink said her board has broached the topic in its past two meetings, but nothing concrete has been pursued.

The topic has become part of the debate in the race for Angola mayor, and there are others keyed in with economic development who have been discussing day care.

“I am aware of some groups working on this topic, and I am not sure that we have a strong direction or clear answer to this topic,” Lee said.

Angola Mayor Dick Hickman said there have been conversations with a variety of community leaders, but no solution has been found.

“I have met with an entity and will be meeting with more to see what ideas they may have to help with this problem,” Hickman said, adding that the solution might rest with a YMCA, a faith-based entity or an entrepreneur.

Lon Keyes, president of the Literacy Coalition, said the board’s officers were going to meet next week to bring the topic back to the front burner.

“I think the SCLC needs to be a leader in this. Our last path didn’t get us there. We will be looking to see if a different path exists,” Keyes said.