CHAFFEE -- Preschools and daycare centers are entrusted with our most precious resource but good help is hard to find.
Some providers are perpetually understaffed while others face a high turnover rate.
"I think that's an issue some places are faced with," said Tara Golightly, owner-director-teacher of TLC Preschool in Chaffee. "Unfortunately, part of the problem is we are not able to pay employees what they really deserve."
Staffing is just one of the issues facing child care centers that the Directors/
Owners Formation Group hope to offer help with, according to Heather Fischer, training coordinator for Child Care Resource and Referral at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
The group is sponsored by Child Care Resource and Referral, according to Fischer, and is led by Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner. "She is faculty for human environmental studies at the university as well as the director of the Center for Child Studies," she said.
"The purpose of this group is to allow directors and owners of individual child care programs to get together and network with each other in hopes of providing a better outcome for employees and the children they serve," Fischer said. "It allows them to collaborate with each other - they share ideas with each other about issues that are raised."
By pooling their knowledge and working together, it is hoped they will be able to find solutions to these issues.
For example, one of the ideas that came up during one of the group's meetings is looking into a group health insurance plan for early child care providers.
"We kind of all agreed it would be something we'd like to talk more about and explore," Golightly said. "That's not something that smaller centers like mine are able to offer employees because of the expenses involved."
Being able to offer health insurance could help daycare centers and preschools attract and keep good help. "It gives you more of an incentive to stick around," Golightly said.
Golightly said she has had some turnover of part-time employees but has managed to keep almost all her full-time employees since opening in September 2002.
"We have been really lucky - we don't have a lot of staff turnover but I know that's a problem a lot of centers face," she said.
Golightly said she was mostly interested in hearing about "policies and procedures other preschools follow, see if they're the same I follow here. It's always interesting to me to see how other programs run, the curriculums others offer."
It was this opportunity to connect with others in the field that led Golightly to attend the group's first meeting.
"I just thought it would be a good place for directors from different centers to kind of network and meet," she said. "It's nice to meet with other individuals who know where you're coming from."
The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month except this December in which the meeting was bumped to Dec. 14 because of a conference.
"We actually had our first meeting on Sept. 1, so it's fairly new but we've had a great response," Fischer said.
Information about the group will go out in the next Child Care Resource and Referral newsletter sent to child care providers.
"We hope that more people will become aware of it," Fischer said. "We are also looking at starting one in Dunklin County for those in the area that can't make it to Cape Girardeau."
While she could earn more money teaching older children or working in another field, Golightly said she is happy with her choice to work in early child care.
"I love what I do - I love the kids and watching them grow, watching their faces when they learn something new," Golightly said. "There's a lot of perks not related to money. It makes you feel good."