MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — Finding childcare has been an ongoing challenge for parents in East Tennessee. Making matters worse, some private programs have had to shut down because of staffing shortages.

One organization that has childcare facilities in a number of counties says they want to be able to serve more children, but they need more employees to do so.

“I think that we’re looking at shortages because we’ve had a lot of families staying at home with their children because of the pandemic. A lot of just fear with working with others because of COVID,” said the Assistant Director for Douglas-Cherokee Head Start And Early Head Start, Emily Kelley.

Douglas-Cherokee Head Start And Early Head Start have childcare facilities in Blount, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Monroe, Sevier, and Union. They provide care for children from birth to four years old and pregnant mothers.

Childcare services are only a part of the programs the agency provides. The agency works to help families living in poverty improve their lives by providing them with assistance and services that they are not able to provide for themselves.

“Our family advocates are working with the parents to do goals with the family. that could be going back to school, getting a job, or different housing. we’re also looking at the health aspect with our children, making sure immunizations are up to date and correct, we’re doing hearing and vision screening, along with the education aspect,’ explained Curriculum and Assessment Manager, Tonya Purky. “We have a total of 964 total enrollment”

However, because of the lack of employees, they are struggling to keep classrooms open.

“We have approximately around 300 staff that we employ at any given time and we’re looking for approximately 40 to 50 vacancies,” said Kelley.

Kelley said that in Hamblen County they’re looking for qualified teachers for an early head start.

“Blount County and Jeff County and our Sevier County areas are where we’re needing a lot of help. Teachers, teacher assistance, childcare aids some family advocate positions that we have available.”

Emelia Watson is a Child Care Aid. She said, “I love that you really get to help the kids.”

Tiffany Stokely has two children who have been through the program. She is now a teacher at their Morristown location. She said the shortage in employees puts a limit on how many children they can accept into their program.

“If we don’t have staff, classrooms are having to shut down, and when that happens parents can’t work because they don’t have childcare.”

Both Stokely and Watson said they are hoping more people will sign up to work for their company so they can give kids the care they need.

“Having that qualified staff and being able to give intentional teaching practices is what gets children ready for school,” added Purky.

Douglas Cherokee is always looking for substitute teachers and volunteers. They say this is a great job for parents who have children in the program. 

If you’re looking to enroll your child or if you want to apply for one of their open positions, you can find more information here