ASHLAND -- The Ashland County Community Foundation Women's Fund is in the planning stage of creating a new childcare option for the county.

ACCF has several possible locations in and near Industrial Park it's considering for the site of the facility. However, a specific location has not yet been decided, said ACCF chief program officer Kristin Aspin.

Trinity Lutheran Church is being considered as the possible non-profit partner for the childcare center, Aspin said. The nonprofit partner, not ACCF, would be the owner and operator of the center.

Trinity Lutheran Church currently offers youth programming, including after school and reading programs, and pastor Kevin McClain said the congregation is supportive of the potential partnership with ACCF.

If the church becomes the nonprofit partner, the childcare center will be a separate entity from the church.

“We’re not expanding the church,” McClain said. 

The timeline of the project is not yet set, as it will depend on site acquisition, construction bids, licensing requirements and other factors that go into creating a licensed facility, both Aspin and McClain said. 

ACCF’s decision to create a new childcare facility is based on results from a childcare study it conducted in May. 

As previously reported by Ashland Source, ACCF rolled out an assessment measuring childcare needs to businesses located at or near Ashland Business Park/Industrial Park. Results revealed a desire for more accessible and affordable childcare.

Specifically, 73% of respondents (125 out of 173 survey respondents) indicated they would be likely or very likely to use a new childcare center near their workplace. Those 125 respondents have a total of 214 children under the age of 13.

A satisfactory completion rate for an external survey is 15-30%, and ACCF’s survey had an approximate 50% completion rate, Aspin said. 

As ACCF works to solidify a plan, it aims to create a service that will offer childcare for people who work various shifts (not solely day shifts). It should also be accessible to single parents and lower income families who otherwise may not be able to afford quality childcare, Aspin said. 

“There will be an endowment component with regard to the childcare initiative,” Aspin said. “So once that endowment piece is in place, then that creates an income stream year after year to help the center operate.

"Obviously it will not cover all of their operating expenses, but it’s money they can count on.”

Funds will also come from customer payments. However, ACCF hopes to discount those rates through subsidies and grants available to nonprofits, Aspin said.  

ACCF identified several key childcare priorities among its survey respondents: affordability, hours, location but also something that is perhaps less easily measured — trust.

“You want somewhere for your child that’s positive, that’s safe,” said Vanessa Sweet, an inside sales representative for the playground equipment supplier Rain Drop Products, one of the Ashland businesses that participated in the survey. 

Sweet is a single mother of a 4-year-old. Daycare is and has long been a major struggle for her, for a few different reasons, she said.  

She started working a 9-to-5 shift with Rain Drop Products in April, after previously working a third-shift job.

“I made the transition because a third-shift lifestyle for a single parent is tough,” Sweet said. “There’s nonexistent daycare in Ashland County for third shift.

"I was fortunate that my mother could do it for a while, but I took approximately a $7 an hour pay cut just because of not being able to find childcare during third shift.”

Even with more childcare options during 9-5 workdays, cost and reliability concerns remain for Sweet. 

“I make it work because she needs to be in daycare,” Sweet said. “She can’t take care of herself, but it does become a struggle.”

Sweet’s daughter has an individualized educational plan, which is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability receives specialized instruction and related services.

Sweet said base childcare rates are already difficult for her to meet given her recent pay cut, and she pays a special services fee on top of the base rate for her daughter’s IEP.

Other employees at Rain Drop Products also want more affordable, dependable childcare options, Rain Drop Products sales manager Jodi Holt said. 

“It’s a continual complaint that the childcare that is available is so expensive,” Holt said. 

Rain Drop Products in Ashland employs over 50 people, and at least 60% of those employees have children in need of childcare, Holt said. 

The majority of employees in seelomg childcare need care full-time during the day, specifically from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

“We don’t have any second shift or midnight shift,” Holt said. “We only have a day shift, so the majority of people would need that.”

Other companies that participated in the survey had different childcare hour needs, including the employee population at Barbasol, LLC, a shaving supplies company with a facility in Ashland.

Barbasol has first and second shifts, with the second shift from 3:20 p.m. to 12:50 a.m., Human Resource Generalist Susan Laps said. She knows employees with young children who work the second shift and have at times had to use vacation time when they are unable to find childcare. 

Currently, employees with young children mainly rely on family members to provide care, whether it be grandparents or spouse’s working different shifts to ensure there is always someone who can be with the children, Laps said. 

Both Laps and Holt said their employees have stressed the importance of having a childcare provider they can trust. 

“They want to feel confidence in the provider, whether it’s from reviews from someone else or accreditation,” Laps said.

Some Rain Drop Top employees opt for babysitters rather than professional services to cut costs, Holt said.

“You either go really, really expensive but you kind of know where they’re at, or you go with someone out of your home that you don’t know as much about, maybe doesn’t have the qualifications that they should, but it’s not as expensive,” Holt said. “That’s what I see with most employees.” 

Additionally, babysitters may not always be available at the same times, which means such care is not consistent nor dependable, Holt said.

Holt thinks a solution for high costs and matching hours with need would be for a childcare option to charge by blocks of time.

“It would be nice to see blocks of time available as opposed to charging one flat fee regardless of how long your child is there — a buildable kind of adaptable program,” Holt said.  

Several employees have expressed concerns about flat fees. 

Sweet currently takes her 4-year-old daughter to Ashland Training Center, a daycare and preschool under the childcare division of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. 

The childcare center located on Maple Street, charges weekly, which Sweet said is more reasonable for her than an up-front monthly or yearly fee. 

Other organizations that offer childcare in the area require upfront payments, such as the Ashland Area YMCA, which charges monthly or yearly for memberships. 

While there are several childcare and preschool options in the area (Milestone’s Learning Center, Ashland Christian preschool program, Head Start, Park Street Brethren Church Preschool, Ashland Montessori School, Faith Kids Daycare, the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center Learning Zone, Olive Tree Care), hours of operation per center vary, with some only offering care for half days or less.

Several centers also have waiting lists, and few offer infant and toddler care. 

Milestone’s Learning Center offers care for children from six weeks to 11 years of age. Currently, the center has a waiting list, which is typical approaching the start of the school year, center director Samantha Barrick said. 

The majority of respondents in ACCF’s study indicated a need for infant and toddler care. The demand Barrick sees at her center aligns with these findings. 

“We see a bigger demand for infant through older toddler,” Barrick said. “Those are typically our rooms that fill up super fast.”

The center has a capacity of 114 children, Barrick said. 

As ACCF works to develop a plan for a new childcare center, Aspin said the goal is to fill in the current childcare gaps in the community -- such as providing guardians currently on wait lists with childcare and creating more care options for younger children. 

“We are trying to supplement, not duplicate, the childcare offerings that exist in our community by meeting unmet needs of women and families,” Aspin said.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.