“Day Care Deserts.” A look into KY’s dramatic decrease in child care options.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A daycare shut down in Lexington last week put a spotlight on the difficulties finding daycare slots. It’s nearly impossible right now due to the pandemic, but it’s been a problem in Kentucky long before March 2020.

“We inherited a bad situation and the pandemic made it a lot worse,” Dustin Pugel said, senior researcher With Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

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He said half of the state has been in a “child care desert” for years.

“There either were not child care centers available in their community, or the ones that were available had fewer spots than the number of children who needed a spot,” Pugel said.

Now, to make matters worse, Pugel said the state lost 10-percent of those centers in 2020.

“That’s a huge problem considering we don’t have 10-percent fewer kids who need those spots.”

With work-from-home and remote learning the new norms, there’s an even greater need. That’s something Ann Fuqua, director of Southern Hills Early Child Program, knows all too well.

“People are very desperate,” Fuqua said. “I probably get 10-12 calls a week from people who need immediate care.”

She said some of those calls are from Fayette County teachers who anticipate going back to the classroom. Fuqua said others are from people whose employers will no longer tolerate work from home.

“It’s very sad because I do have room here, but I can’t enroll anybody,” Fuqua said.

She said the cost was a shock as well. Fuqua had to employ more staff so they wouldn’t intermingle. She said that was a breaking point for several daycares in Lexington.

“They just could not find a way out financially to keep going,” Fuqua said.

Pugel experienced that reality first hand. The daycare he sent his two young sons to closed in April last year, and his sons have been home ever since.

“It’s a struggle, and it’s definitely had an impact on my work schedule,” Pugel said.

He said he’s been fortunate to have hired some temporary tutors in the past – something many Kentuckians cannot.

Pugel said he’s interested in what the state might have planned with the nearly 200-million in child care funding allocated in the latest COVID-19 relief package from the federal government.

He said he hopes it can re-open some centers that have closed and help lower the threshold for parents to qualify for state assistance for daycare.