Rockingham County axes after school childcare program due to understaffing

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Some parents in Rockingham County will be looking for new child care when school starts up in two weeks. The county informed parents on Monday night that it will not be holding its after-school childcare program at county elementary schools this year.

The county’s Parks and Rec Department has run the program for over 30 years but it doesn’t have enough staff to operate it this year.

“I hate that we’re not able to offer it. We’ve enjoyed offering it, we think it’s been a really good program but sometimes you have to face reality and the reality is we weren’t gonna be able to do it in a safe manner that we felt good about having kids in our care with that reduction in manpower,” said Kirby Dean, Rockingham County’s Director of Parks and Recreation.

Last year the county was able to operate the program, but Dean said it was a balancing act and there was barely enough staff to make it work. This year, the staffing situation only got worse.

Dean said that the program would have had only 50 available part-time employees this year, most of whom could only work a few days out of the week.

That means the families of the around 270 children who were signed up for child care will now have to find another option.

“I’m an optimistic guy, I always think there’s a way to make it work but we were at the 11th hour here and the numbers just weren’t there. It just was not tenable to make this program happen in a safe manner,” said Dean.

The after-school program is independent of Rockingham County Public Schools and is run completely by the county, but RCPS has been in communication with the county about the state of the program.

“They are concerned about the needs of the community just like we are. Dr. Scheikl shares the concerns that we have with having to eliminate the program but that’s just the reality of the situation we have with our ability or inability to find employees to run it,” said Rockingham County Administrator Stephen King.

Another issue besides the lack of employees was the experience level of the limited number of employees that were available.

“We were probably 90 percent high school and college age which we love those workers and they were good workers, I feel really good about them but you get to a point where if you’re not sprinkling in some more experienced folks in a childcare setting that can present some issues,” said Dean.

Dean said that the county explored all options to keep the program running.

“We had conversations about possibly trying to reduce the number of kids at each site or reducing the total number of sites but even then our numbers were so low that it was gonna be hard to piece that puzzle together. The second thing is we weren’t really comfortable deciding who got child care and who didn’t and which sites were open and which weren’t,” he said.

Now the county is hoping that other organizations can step in to help provide after-school care.

“We’ve had some conversations with the Boys and Girls Club and I’ve helped them with hiring some of our part-time folks and I also made them aware as soon as I could of what was gonna happen,” he said.

The county said it will evaluate things over the next year before determining if the program can be brought back in the future.

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