Families from around Wisconsin are facing significant shortages of quality child care programs, caused in large part by a shortage of licensed early childhood staff.
UW-Stout is committed to building the state’s child care workforce through its Child and Family Study Center, School of Education programs and collaborative programs within Heritage Hall and across campus.
Recently, Child Care Partnership conducted a survey on child care capacity related to the early childhood teacher shortage and the impacts in western Wisconsin. Of the 116 licensed group child care centers in the 10-county area, 70% responded to the survey.
They reported having to adjust their capacity because of a shortage of qualified staff. And although the group centers reported hiring almost 600 times in the last 12 months, there are still more than 300 staff positions open. In addition to adjusted capacity, more than 50 classrooms closed, resulting in a loss of more than 1,600 child care slots.
In these counties, waiting lists for families outweigh availability, with 90% of programs reporting a waiting list of more than 4,000 children. And across the state, three or more children compete for every available child care spot, with 54% of Wisconsin residents living in child care deserts.
Without support around the child care staffing crisis, 16% of CCP group child care programs reported they were facing closure due to the ongoing issue of not having qualified staff.
As part of Gov. Evers proposed 2023-25 budget, $340 million would be invested in the Child Care Counts: COVID-19 Stabilization Payment Program, along with $22 million to support the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Partner Up! Program.
Without ongoing financial support through programs like Child Care Counts and Partner Up!, 44% of CCP programs were unsure they would remain in business, and 21% felt they would close in the near future.
Child Care Partnership, a Western Dairyland Community Action Agency program, serves Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, St. Croix, and Trempealeau counties and the Ho-Chunk Nation. Its goal is to increase access to consistent, affordable and quality child care services.
University center helping to make a difference
The Child and Family Study Center practices the university’s polytechnic mission of providing hands-on experiences to undergraduate and master’s students to prepare them for careers in child care and early childhood education. The CFSC also helps train future teachers, counselors and dietitians through academic instruction, research, classroom observations and service-learning.
The CFSC is licensed by the state. Instructional staff teach in five classrooms and labs in two locations on campus: the Infant/Toddler Lab in Heritage Hall, with children 6 weeks through 3 years of age; and the Preschool, with children 3 to 6 years, including the 4K program, in partnership with the School District of the Menomonie Area.
As a National Association for the Education of Young Children accredited program, the CFSC is held to guidelines regarding teacher preparation. It holds a five-star rating in the YoungStar system, which ensures the health and safety of child care in Wisconsin.
“We have a reputation of quality and intentional programming to support children's success,” said Director Allison Feller. “Our qualified staff exemplify excellence and directly impact our program's success. By staying abreast of current research and developments in the field of early childhood education, they mentor future educators who are prepared to enter the workforce.”
This year, 63 children of university students, faculty, staff and community members are in CFSC programming. They represent diverse cultural backgrounds and receive care and learning opportunities for up to 10 hours each day, 50 hours each week.
Each year, the CFSC collaborates with more than 20 programs across campus, with more than 650 university students engaging in professional development practices.
Undergraduate programs represented include early childhood education; art education; and human development and family studies; and master’s programs include school counseling; school psychology; clinical mental health counseling and nutrition and dietetics.
“We're educating highly qualified candidates for programs when children are at the most critical stage of development,” Feller said.
Kayla Hewitt, an early childhood education alum, is a behavioral therapist with an early intervention program. She works one-on-one with children ages 2 and older, who are on the autism spectrum. Using applied behavior analysis, Hewitt guides children to understand their abilities to their best advantage, so that they may have the most independent life they can.
“My education from Stout has given me the best tools to excel in my position,” Hewitt said. “I use individualization and differentiation every single day. I also utilize the training I received at Stout to create plans for programming, thinking outside the box for creatively presenting new learning objectives while aiming for the most multimodal experience for the child. The skills I learned to help manage classrooms and learning environments, as well as building family relationships and rapport, has helped me to be the best behavior therapist I can be.”
The Preschool building opened in 1971; the Heritage Hall Infant/Toddler Lab opened in 1973.
The Heritage Hall renovation will support building a new CFSC, strengthening state-of-the-art programming and curriculum to keep UW-Stout students at the forefront of innovative and evidence-based early childhood services. A newly designed center will also include a common space for faculty, staff, community partners and families to expand existing collaborations and campus initiatives.
The renovation of Heritage Hall, which received priority approval from the UW System Board of Regents, is ranked No. 1 in the Chippewa Valley and No. 3 for major academic building renovation projects. Renovation is slated to begin in 2026.
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Community partnerships, campus collaborations benefit multiple stakeholders
The collaborations between the Child and Family Study Center and cross-campus programs offer university students – who are preparing to enter Wisconsin’s child care workforce – multiple experiential learning opportunities to work with children and families.
Professor Christine Peterson believes the CFSC positively impacts M.S. and Ed.S. school psychology students. They assess 3K students for their clinical practicums to profile preacademic skills at the beginning and end of each academic year.
This collaboration benefits multiple stakeholders, Peterson explained, including the graduate students who receive applied learning experience; and CFSC instructional staff and parents who receive meaningful information about instruction and a benchmark measure of progress. CFSC submits this data annually to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
“The CFSC stands out on our campus as a model for lab-based programming; it simultaneously serves multiple programs, enhances the applied student experience for not only preservice teachers but multiple other disciplines, and provides a critical community service,” Peterson said.
Clinical mental health counseling Professor Julie Bates-Maves believes UW-Stout’s labs, like the CFSC, are at the heart of the university’s polytechnic distinction.
“This indispensable lab brings life to the developmental considerations, attachment theory, and social and emotional development we teach in our courses,” Bates-Maves said. “Having the opportunity to try on one’s counseling skills with young populations is critical, as is the opportunity to observe developmental expression in person versus simply reading about it.
“The center provides a model of healthy caregiving, allowing our students to further observe interactional styles between adults and children that support emotional development. As emerging professional counselors, our students will educate parents and caregivers on how to support children in the midst of normal development, but also those experiencing developmental crises,” Bates-Maves said.
This spring semester, Assistant Professor Lindsay Heidelberger, program director of M.S. nutrition and dietetics, has connected Professor Deb Sheats to collaborate with CFSC staff to provide master’s students in the Nutrition Education and Counseling course with hands-on, polytechnic learning. Students will observe meal times at the CFSC, conduct needs assessments with staff and create nutrition education video lessons for children and their families.
“Having access to the CFSC has been integral to the students’ learning by providing experiential learning in a real-world setting as a nutrition educator,” Heidelberger said.