Finding child care is constant battle, even bigger after closure

Many local families are in the unenviable position of trying to find a new day care provider after Childfirst Centers of Care and Discovery announced earlier this week it’s closing after nearly 75 years.

Childfirst is closing three of its locations, and Red Balloon Early Learning Center will be taking over at two other locations.

As many local parents know, finding child care in the Coulee Region is not an easy task. Places like the YMCA North have a waiting list 300 names long for a child care program only licensed for 97.

Now, with many families in the market for a new child care provider, finding the right one becomes even more important.

In a statement to News 8, Childfirst said it has “not been in a good financial position for the last several years.” The statement goes on to say that asking Red Balloon to take over would be “the best way we could move forward with as little impact on the community as possible.”

“I’ve heard waiting lists are long,” said Audra Weiser, the director of early child care & education, at The Parenting Place.

Weiser oversees child care referrals at The Parenting Place. She said child care in general is in high demand right now, but finding space in some age groups is tougher than in others.

“We see the highest demand for the younger ages, the infants and particularly children under 2. The group sizes are smaller, the staff-to-child ratio is less, so those spots are fewer and far between,” Weiser said.

Weiser said when looking for a day care provider, families should ask lots of questions of the person or people who could be watching over their children.

“We encourage them to look at the education and training of the provider or the staff at the center and any additional accreditations that they may have,” Weiser said.

Childfirst has not responded to questions about how many children and families will be without child care after it closes for good.

Red Balloon estimates it will be able to absorb about 70 Childfirst kids between its two locations.

Two Childfirst locations, one in La Crosse and the other in West Salem, are also 4K program locations for the La Crosse and West Salem school districts.

Red Balloon has said it will honor those contracts through the remainder of the year, and will discuss with both districts about plans for next fall.