By SEAN ROWLEY
It’s been a snow-ridden winter this year, and the number of days schools have closed due to inclement weather is mounting. Since a few weeks of winter still remain, the tally may not be complete.
Working parents of elementary- and middle school-age children are sometimes at a loss for alternatives when school is closed. Some families rely on spouses, grandparents and baby sitters, while others try to find care in established centers.
Jean Parker runs a home-based childcare service, Miss Jean’s Daycare, which is licensed by the Department of Human Services and Cherokee Nation. Parker realizes snow days put a pinch on parents.
“I take extra children if I have openings – say, if some of the regulars can’t make it due to the weather,” said Parker. “But daycare homes and centers are limited on the number of children they can keep. Once they reach capacity, they have to say ‘no.’”
Parker said she knows parents who rely on grandparents, and others who have pooled their resources to share the work.
“Some of the parents will plan a slumber party,” said Parker. “That way, some of the children are taken care of, and only one parent has to miss work. It makes it easier on the group. I’ll tell you, it takes teamwork.”
When Parker reaches capacity, she often refers parents to a couple of resources to help them find alternatives.
“I know the Cherokee Nation has a child care resource center, and would refer anyone who qualifies for those services to check with them. There may also be several local centers that accepts drop-ins when it snows,” said Parker. “Also okdhs.org lists all of the daycare homes and centers in Tahlequah. They can go online, go down the list and check for openings.”
According to the Cherokee Nation website, www.cherokee.org, the tribe assists citizens finding childcare in their area. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be reached at (918) 453-5300.
Dana Sweet, owner and operator of Sweet’s Child Care Center in Tahlequah, accepts children 6 weeks to 12 years, and is also licensed by DHS and Cherokee Nation.
“On school snow days, we take the children who are already enrolled in our after-school or summer program,” said Sweet. “But we’re very busy, and aren’t able to accept more than that, generally.”
This school year, Tahlequah Public Schools has closed 10 days for inclement weather. Many parents who work part-time may not have the benefit of vacation days, and some full-time working parents may have exhausted their paid time off, which creates issues for some families.
Erika Lloyd, owner and operator of The Toy Chest Learning Center, said her operation closes when the schools do.
“I think employers need to get the gist and understand it puts parents in a bind when school is out,” said Lloyd. “We have openings occasionally, but they are erratic and are generally filled by older siblings of our regular kids. It’s tough on parents, because when schools close, Head Start programs close, too.”
Tony O’seland, lecturer at Northeastern State University, said child care has been an ongoing issue at the university for non-traditional students.
“For at least two decades that I know of, it has been requested that the university create a child learning center on the campus,” said O’seland. “We have a nationally recognized child psychology group; our early childhood education candidates are some of the most sought after in the region; we have a hearing pathology program, a vision program and a nursing program. Why are we not utilizing these in-house resources for the betterment of the campus and community?”
O’seland thinks additional pressure from the community may be needed.
“Perhaps if the public were to put some pressure on the university, there might be results rather than having the situation ignored when submitted by the students.”