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Licensed child care options decline for Homer parents

Courtesy of Niki Falco

Options for child care in Homer are becoming more scarce. Some child care operations are closing their doors while others are struggling to operate.

Falco is a single mother to two young children, a four-year-old and an infant who recently turned one, and finding child care has been difficult, especially for her younger daughter.

“When she was three-months-old, I waitlisted her with all of the child care that took child care assistance and infants and Masha’s is the only one I had heard back from,” she said.

By Masha’s, she is referring to Mrs. M’s Cozy Bears Daycare. Mrs. M’s was a licensed daycare that accepted child care assistance, a supplement for low-income families, but it closed this summer. Headstart, which her son attends, only runs during the school year. She used to be able to rely on her sister-in-law, but she moved out of town.  

Now, Falco is making do with a babysitter.

I prefer to put her in daycare during the day because then she gets socialization that she doesn't otherwise get at all,” she said. “But at this point, beggars can't be choosers. I’ll take what I can get.”

But now her babysitter is leaving at the end of this summer. Falco said she’s been searching for another on Facebook.

“It's  really hard for one person to make enough money to support a household and still get to be around for their kids, and you need reliable people that you know are going to help your children feel safe and grow," she said. 

When it comes to licensed daycare services, the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a whole is doing better than a majority of the state, according to the McDowell Group, but the Homer area only accounts for about a sixth of the operations in the borough. From Ninilchik to Homer and Fritz Creek, there are roughly 100 spots parents are competing for.  

Red Asselin Martin is an outreach specialist for Sprout Family Services. She said the lack of child care near Homer is a regular discussion at every playgroup she facilities.  

"They're constantly calling around or in the holding pattern of 'what do we do?" she said. 

She explains that spots for infants are particularly hard to find because few daycares are able to care for them. With an overall shortage of licensed care, that also poses problems for low-income families that receive child care assistance from the state. That assistance can’t be used t on babysitters or other unlicensed care. 

When a licensed child care business closes, we are limiting the opportunities for some of the most financially struggling families and children that might need the most support," she said. 

According to Thread, a statewide early education nonprofit, there are a variety of reasons daycare operations are not expanding to meet demand, from profitability to finding workspace and employee turnover.

Those are some of the reasons why operations like Nikki’s Daycare in Homer is also considering downsizing. Nikki Melkomukov runs the daycare and she said all 12 of her spots are almost always full.

But her lone full-time staff member is leaving at the end of this summer.

"But that's the biggest factor is finding a replacement a full-time replacement that is going to be a dependable and come on time and is obviously good with children," she said. "So just finding somebody that fits that criteria can be kind of challenging sometimes." 

If Melkomukov does downsize, Homer would only be losing another four spots for childcare, but for parents like Falco, those are four fewer chances to find daycare for her daughter.

Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.