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New Centre County Childcare Crisis Coalition looks to keep programs from closing

FILE - In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, Daniel O'Donnell, left, looks on as William Hayden sends large blocks flying at the Creative Kids Learning Center, a school that focuses on pre-kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson
FILE - In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, a child plays with large blocks at the Creative Kids Learning Center in Seattle. In Centre County, Pa., several child care programs have recently closed or will close soon.

Several child care programs have recently closed or will close soon in Centre County. The new Centre County Childcare Crisis Coalition and Foundation looks to keep local programs open with help from county government and local businesses.

Elizabeth Seidel is the mother of two young children. She said her kids were going to ABC Children’s Center on Whitehall Road in State College until it closed in October.

“So when that happened, I just thought, ‘Oh, gosh, the chance that we find a place that has openings with two young kids is… I don't know what that's gonna look like. And we only have a month to figure this out.’ So it was a very big surprise," Seidel said.

Seidel said she was able to transfer her kids to Childspace in State College, although the program needed time to find staff to accommodate all the kids who were transferring.

Kelly Johnson is the owner of Childspace. She said it has been harder to find and keep staff since the pandemic, as many other industries raised their pay. And, she said, raising the program’s cost only goes so far.

“We've known for decades that parents cannot afford to pay the cost of high quality programs. So I realized the only other option if we are going to survive, and hopefully even thrive, is to get community support," Johnson said.

Johnson, along with other child care providers in the area, went to the State College Kiwanis Club, a volunteer group that raises funds for children's programs, to ask for help. Eileen Wise is a board member of the club, which is creating a “coalition fund.”

“We're going to be out speaking to businesses, speaking to the Chamber of Business, speaking to our county commissioners and giving presentations about it, and then we'll hopefully bring in donations," Wise said.

Wise said child care programs enrolled in that fund distribution will be able to apply for free and use the funds as they see fit. But, Wise said, the hope is to increase workers’ pay and encourage them to stay in the industry.

The coalition also wants to raise awareness for a bill currently in front of state lawmakers, which would give tax credits to employers who invest in child care for their employees.

"Today’s reality is that the cost of childcare is driving some parents to stay at home with their children, even though they want to continue working. Surveys show that up to 50% of mothers have thought about leaving the workforce due to inadequate childcare," said Rep. Liz Hanbidge and Rep. Morgan Cephas in a memo to all Pennsylvania House members. "One study estimates that the U.S. economy loses as much as $122 billion per year due to parents not being able to work. This crisis has harmed not only families, but also businesses who are looking to hire and retain qualified, motivated workers."

House Bill 1958 was introduced on March 20 and is still in the House. Rep. Scott Conklin of Centre County is one of the bill's sponsors.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.