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Children's Week highlights staff shortages in childcare in Nevada

By Anjali Patel,


March 13-16 is Children's Week in the Nevada state legislature , and it's all about promoting the health, safety and well-being of kids.

One issue that's continuing to frustrate many local families is childcare availability.

According to a 2023 draft childcare policy report from the Governor's Office of Workforce Innovation, every Nevada County — both rural and urban — is a childcare desert. That's due to there not being enough infrastructure and childcare workers. The report states that 74% of Nevada children ages 0-5 do not have a licensed childcare spot available to them, as depicted in this interactive map .

Good Morning Las Vegas anchor Anjali Patel spoke with the Director of Kids Are Us , a childcare center on Jones Boulevard in Las Vegas.

The director, Kim Helaire-Smith, said she wishes they could take in more kids, but they are at capacity and even have a waitlist. She said Nevada was a childcare desert prior to COVID-19's emergence, but the pandemic exacerbated the situation.

"This is born out of the pandemic. We've never really had a waitlist," Helaire-Smith said. "We've always been full with children, but we could refer them to other centers or if we said we didn't have room, they would go somewhere else. But when they call me now, it's like, we've already called everywhere, and we are just getting everyone's waitlist. Now, there's nowhere to really send them."

The lack of space at childcare centers is taking an emotional toll, not just on caregivers, but on parents, too.

"It saddens me, it really does, because you can hear it in their voice. Some of them have even cried," she said.

She said some local directors and caregivers actually passed away from COVID, leading to the shutdown of some childcare centers. The childcare industry, like many others, also saw an exodus of employees over the past couple of years, which compounded the issue.

Kids Are Us wasn't immune to those staffing struggles, but the situation has since improved then, Helaire-Smith said. She said they've been focusing on retention, by offering things like raises and morale-boosting programs. She said once you lose an employee, it's not easy now to find applicants to fill the position — and once you do, it's a lengthy hiring process. That's why employee retention is more critical than ever.

"It's not like you can fire someone or lose someone and the next day you have an employee. Even if you have a potential employee, they've got to go through a process. They've got to go and get CPR, first aid, different things that you want them to have and it takes a while," she said.

Helaire-Smith said another big way they've improved their staffing situation is by changing how — and who — they recruit.

"I don't know what happened with the pandemic, but a lot of the people in childcare just left. They just left childcare. Where they went, I don't know. But now, a lot of the centers are having to recruit people who are new to childcare. They've never done children. They've maybe had kids. But they've never worked with other people's children," she said.

She said thanks to a new academy from the Children's Cabinet , new employees get to take the necessary early childhood education training and courses while working — plus they get a stipend from the program. Helaire-Smith said this program is helping her recruit employees who are completely new to the field, while also ensuring they're getting the proper training and guidance at the same time.

"We do need to get new people into it. A lot of these people that I've just hired, they had no idea that they'd be really good with children and they actually are," she said.

Helaire-Smith said she thinks creative approaches to retention and recruitment are what it's going to take to solve Nevada's acute childcare shortage.

For more information about employment opportunities in childcare, visit the Kids Are Us website.

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