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Ohio is in a childcare crisis. One county has a solution

A child sits at a desk with colorful markers, drawing. An adult sits beside him and guides him.
Gabe Pierce
One northwest Ohio county is aiming to bring in more childcare providers through workshops.

There’s not enough child care in Allen County. It’s an issue felt by many Ohio communities, as the state has fewer childcare workers in the labor force than any time the last two decades.

Local workforce organizations in northwest Ohio argue it’s not just a problem for parents – it’s a problem for the region’s economy. That’s why the state workforce program Ohio Means Jobs Allen County has started offering workshops for parents interested in becoming in-home care providers.

It’s meant to be a “one stop shop” for all the safety trainings, documents and home inspections each prospective provider needs.

“We want people to get their child in that comfortable, safe environment and have the hours that we need to be able to help our employers,” Patton said.

A decline in providers

Allen County executive director Joe Patton said it’s a dire need in the community, where he said the number of in-home care providers has dropped from 60 to 15 in the last eight years.

Patton attributes that to the Step Up to Quality program, a five-star ratings program the state set up for publicly funded childcare providers. He said the state requirements added too many hoops to jump through to become an in-home provider. And, though it added educational aspects, he said not every wants or needs that in their childcare provider.

“I think a lot of it comes down to parents' choice,” Patton said. “When I talked to our consumers, no one was really looking at the star rating.”

“A parent can't really take a full time job if they don't have their kids in a safe environment."
Joe Patton, executive director of Ohio Means Jobs in Allen County

But, some child care advocates disagree. Chief operating officer of Groundwork Ohio Lynanne Gutierrez said the child care crisis is not an issue of paperwork, it’s an issue of funding. And, she said, targeting quality childcare programs isn’t helping.

“We're trying to shift the focus from this idea that if we simply remove regulation, or streamline processes, that we're gonna get ourselves out of the fundamental issue: that our system is underfunded,” she said.

The Step Up to Quality program has changed in the last year to allow in-home providers to be exempt. Patton has celebrated those changes, while Gutierrez worries it will hurt low-income families.

Economic impact

Whatever’s behind the decline, it’s having a real economic impact for Ohio communities.

Patton said a lack of in-home providers makes it difficult for many parents in the region to remain in the workforce. Especially in an area like Allen County, where manufacturing and healthcare jobs dominate the region. Those industries often have long shifts and overnight hours – that aren’t covered by traditional child care centers.

“Most of the hospitals now we're working 10 or 12 hour shifts, along with a lot of the manufacturers are the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shifts,” he said.

More in-home providers would help because they often have more flexibility to take care of children during those extended hours, Patton said. That’s where the workshops come in. Rather than having to seek out multiple trainings from different organizations with limited availability, Ohio Means Jobs has collected the resources into one place.

“CPR and First Aid [trainings] were kind of harder to come by. So I have my staff trained in those and made it more of a one stop shop where they can get that all done in a very short amount of time,” Patton said.

And, he said they don’t stop there. They help with any part of the childcare application process, like conducting mock inspections or aiding providers in submitting their forms.


So far, the program has added 10 new in-home providers for the region. Patton said he’s hopeful that it can add more people to the workforce and help the county fill the more than 2,000 jobs available within a 10 mile radius of Lima. Patton said childcare and workforce development are inextricable.

“A parent can't really take a full time job if they don't have their kids in a safe environment,” he said.

The workforce program is ramping up more workshops as the school year resumes, and demand for care rises. He hopes they’ll be able to bring their numbers back up to 60.

Guiterrez said she’s happy to see communities taking innovative approaches to recruiting child care providers. She predicts there will be a growing movement of communities calling for a greater investment in the system.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.