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Parents have choices for child care in Scottsbluff/Gering
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Parents have choices for child care in Scottsbluff/Gering

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Caring for a young child can be challenging; caring for several, even more so. Yet for dozens of local residents, it’s exactly the type of job they want.

Nebraska has lots of places to go to check the quality of daycares, and Cindy Molina, of Gering, said she doesn’t think most parents are fully aware of the options they have. Molina is a Step Up to Quality coach and a coordinator for Gering Communities for Kids. Step Up to Quality is the state of Nebraska’s child care evaluation program, while Communities for Kids measures the availability of daycare options in a given city.

“I really think in Gering and Scottsbluff, probably both, the need for infant care is very high,” Molina said.

Working parents aren’t able to care for their infants or toddlers all day long, so they need a place for them to learn and grow until they’re ready for kindergarten. There is one caveat in that there are far more options for child care in Scottsbluff than there are in Gering. According to the Nebraska Child Care Referral Network, Gering has nine private or public locations for child care, while Scottsbluff has three times as many.

“It’s something I think a lot of businesses need to be aware of,” Molina said.

Some businesses, however, are based around this need for child care. Trisha Garcia has been running Trisha’s Daycare in Gering for the last 25 years and has been licensed that whole time. When she went back to school to get her early childhood education degree, she said she decided it would be better for her family to stay at home. That way, she could take care of her own children when they got back from school and take classes during the night.

Being in business for a quarter-century means many of the children she watched over have gone on to bring their own kids to her.

“So now I have children of children here,” Garcia said, “the second generation.”

She operates a ‘Home I’ classification of daycare, which means she is the only provider. She can work with kids ages six weeks through 13 years old. The license allots for 10 kids overall; or up to two infants and six kids overall; or just three infants.

The Step Up to Quality rating is similar to a hotel star system, Garcia said. There are five levels, but the top three require constant supervision by the state.

“Eventually, that rating is going to dictate what our rates can be,” she said.

Garcia said she makes more with her private rates than what the state would pay her comparatively. This isn’t the reason she’s moving her home, and her operation, to Scottsbluff, though — Garcia is getting married and wants to move in with her future husband.

Her current clients will make the move with her, but Garcia said there are more parents in Scottsbluff to begin with, so there are more opportunities for daycares to attract additional clients. That doesn’t necessary mean they’ll be first in line; parents call her as soon as they find out they’re expecting. Garcia said she often takes care of kids from the time their parents’ parental leave is over to the time the kids start kindergarten.

Daycares don’t just keep kids fed and entertained, though. As Garcia put it, child care providers are no longer just babysitters. They ensure that their children experience learning opportunities and developmental and social growth. Oftentimes, it can be a child’s first experience being around people who aren’t part of their families.

“I think being in a group like this, it prepares them for kindergarten. There’s going to be a lot of kids in kindergarten when they get in there, and they’ve got to learn how to socialize, how to make friends,” Valerie Smith of the YMCA Preschool said. Several kindergarten teachers even bring their own children to the preschool. “...We really feel like we prepare our kids for kindergarten.”

The YMCA groups also learn a Christian education and character-improving lessons, which Smith said is one factor that draws in some parents.

The YMCA preschool is a popular local option for parents. There are currently close to 100 kids among the different classes, as well as what Smith described as a “pretty lengthy” waiting list. Like private daycares, the preschool can only have a limited number of kids per class. However, with multiple adults supervising them, there can be as many as two dozen kids in a particular group. Smith said the children come from all over the Panhandle, and they’ve had a few come from eastern Wyoming. Since the preschool is located in the Scottsbluff YMCA facility, they often visit other parts of the building for class activities such as gym. Smith said she and the other supervisors take the kids on field trips once in a while, such as visiting grocery stores to teach the children how they work.

There are new day care opportunities popping up all the time, such as Elizabeth Scribner’s Little Scribbles Day Care in Scottsbluff, which started in 2015. Scribner started it to take care of her own daughter and add to her income after she broke her leg and was fired from her jobs. She became licensed in 2018, and in the beginning most of her clients learned about her through word-of-mouth.

“For me, it’s rewarding to help people in my community. Most of the people who are my clients, I grew up with or went to school with,” she said.

One benefit of in-home daycare, Scribner said, is that it allows providers to spend more one-on-one time to foster their children’s growth.

Like Garcia, she has a Home I certification and usually sticks to infants and toddlers. It can be a difficult process to get an in-home daycare licensed, Scribner said, one that requires inspections, CPR certification and a credit hour system similar to college. But it also allows the kids to decide what they want to work on and how they want to grow.

“At least in my experience, in-home care is child-run care,” she said.

Molina, the Step Up to Quality coach, said parents need to look at which daycare would be the best fit for them and their kids. Communication between parents and providers is key, and parents shouldn’t be afraid to check out several different options to compare quality and price. Each day care experience is different, she said, and there are plenty of choices to choose from.

christopher.borro@starherald.com

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Christopher Borro is a reporter at the Star-Herald. He can be reached at email at christopher.borro@starherald.com.

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