Mariah Burnley, owner of the Ohio Valley Child Learning Center, with her son Noah. Photo by Allen Siegler, courtesy of Mountain State Spotlight. Burnley’s experience with a three-year waitlist for her first child inspired her to establish her own child care business in Ohio County (Wheeling WV).
A lot of people are thinking about childcare. Across the state, there are more than 26,000 children under 6 whose parents or guardians are seeking care but couldn’t find a placement, according to data reported by Mountain State Spotlight. Locally, the Jefferson County Development Authority (JCDA) did its own research and estimates that more than 1,600 families in Jefferson County have an unmet need for licensed childcare.
The West Virginia state legislature debated more than a dozen bills related to childcare in its regular session earlier this year (see story at Mountain State Spotlight). Many of those bills addressed affordability, focusing on tax credits, employer credits, and subsidies. Still, the fundamental question went unresolved — how to build up the capacity to meet the demand.
According to the JCDA report, the average wait for an open childcare slot in Jefferson County exceeds 13 months. The average wait time for a slot in Berkeley County is 6 months and the average wait time in Frederick County (MD) is 3 months. Eddie Benites-LM, the executive director of the JCDA, presented this information to the JCDA board and the Jefferson County Commission, noting that it’s not just a concern for parents — employers have concerns that the lack of accessible childcare is limiting their potential workforce and ability to expand.
Child Care Is Business
The same concern was voiced at a joint meeting of the Berkeley and Jefferson Chambers of Commerce earlier in 2023, during a presentation led by Dr. John Deskins of the West Virginia Bureau of Business and Economic Research. During the presentation, Dr. Deskins presented multiple statistics that indicated a strong outlook for economic growth in the Eastern Panhandle. The lack of childcare capacity stood out as one of the singular constraints in the region that has much potential to expand its role as an economic engine of West Virginia.
Benites-LM reported that the JCDA will be working on several initiatives in the months ahead to help local residents start or expand childcare businesses. Helping businesses understand the permitting process is at the top of the list, along with ongoing discussions with other county agencies to clarify and streamline the permitting process. The JCDA will also be announcing in-person seminars and other resources to assist small business entrepreneurs.
Benites-LM also announced that the YMCA of Frederick County MD will be evaluating the Eastern Panhandle as a potential site for a new facility that would include childcare services in addition to a broad range of family health and recreation offerings. She sees the potential of a YMCA child care facility to make a dent in the gap between the need and the capacity for childcare, but it would still leave lots of room for local entrepreneurs to flourish.
For more information about JCDA programs and resources available for local businesses, visit JCDA.net.
The Observer will be covering childcare in Jefferson County as an ongoing issue — Sign up for email updates at WeAreTheObserver.com to get news about this topic.By Staff Contributor