Illinois day care operators fear a renewed focus on staffing requirements amidst an ongoing shortage of qualified workers could impact a parent’s ability to find a place to care for their kids.

“We just don’t have the staff to take care of the children,” said Sarah Stoliker who is the president of the Illinois Directors/Owners of Child Care Centers.  

Stoliker said many day care operators have been struggling to find qualified staff since before the pandemic.  Amidst the shortage, she said many have turned to assistant teachers as a backstop to supervise children.    

Now, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is underscoring what’s known as the “3-Hour rule” which restricts the use of assistant teachers in rooms serving children age 2 and younger, requiring a certified teacher be present in the room.

“[The rules were] never intended to allow teaching assistants to supervise a room with children under the age of two without the presence of a teacher,” said DCFS spokesperson Heather Tarczan. “DCFS believes this prohibition is necessary due to the vulnerability of the ages served.”  Illinois’ child welfare agency substantiated 292 complaints related to staffing in classrooms since 2019.

“We have eager staff and employees trying to work in the early childhood profession; unfortunately we can’t meet those qualifications,” said Karina Cortez who runs Ivy Academy in Elgin.  Cortez and others say many day care centers already have waiting lists of children they can’t accommodate.  She also says teachers need breaks through-out the day.  “A human being can only work so many hours with love and joy in their heart until they’re burned out.”    

The day care owners and operators association said some facilities may be forced to cut hours or even close due to an inability to find certified teachers.

“People who go to college and have a degree don’t want to work in a day care center,” said Margaret Loughran who owns Kiddie Kampus Learning Center in Channahon.   “They want to work in public schools where they can get a pension, insurance benefits and paid time off.”

There are currently 2,858 licensed day care centers in Illinois, 4% fewer than before the pandemic.  Child care center operators are now appealing to their legislators to lean on DCFS to relax the rules on the use of assistant teachers.  Indiana and other surrounding states have lower educational requirements for day care staff than Illinois.