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As Wyoming’s childcare desert grows, lawmakers consider allowing nannies to care for more families

An digital image of a small group of children with two adults, presumably in a daycare.
Wannapik/Creative Commons
The only daycare center in the town of Dubois recently closed up shop.

More families in Wyoming are failing to get the childcare they need so they can hold down jobs. In fact, the Wyoming Business Council’s Josh Dorrell said at a recent Labor, Health and Social Services Committee meeting that as many as 10,000 people in the state are unable to participate in the workforce because of this so-called childcare desert.

To help the problem in the short term, Wyoming legislators are considering a bill that would ease restrictions on how many families a nanny can serve.

Recently, the town of Dubois lost its only daycare center, leaving families scrambling to find someone to watch their small children so they could go to work. One stopgap measure might have been for families to pool their resources and hire a shared nanny.

But parent Casey Sedlack told lawmakers that wasn’t an option.

“Nannies can, by law, only care for one child from one family and one child from another family. And so that immediately wipes out your options for having quick access to childcare because it becomes illegal very, very quickly,” Sedlack said.

Lawmakers drafted a bill that would instead allow nannies to take care of up to five families and plan to introduce it in the next legislative session.

Sudden closures of childcare centers like the one in Dubois are happening across the state.

Roxanne O’Connor with the Wyoming Department of Family Services told lawmakers that their surveys show workers quit because they’re burned out, forcing daycares to close.

“That is the biggest thing that we hear across providers is a workforce issue,” O’Connor said. “They might be licensed to have 60 children, a very viable business that's going to support a lot of children and a lot of families and communities. But if they can only find three or four staff, then they're not able to have that number of children.”

Neighboring states have addressed childcare deserts by adjusting zoning rules to allow daycares to operate in residential homes, or by providing state support to increase wages for childcare workers, among other measures.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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