Powell day care closing highlights difficulties of finding child care in East TN

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POWELL, Tenn. (WATE) — A day care that has been open in the Powell community for more than 20 years plans to close, leaving several parents scrambling for child care at the last minute. Mudpies and Music Child Care owner Kara McKamey wrote a letter to parents on Wednesday, saying she made the tough decision to close her day care.

“It’s been very rewarding. Definitely, a dream that I had that I was able to see come to fruition, so I’ve enjoyed it,” McKamey said. She opened the business when she was just 23 years old.

The closure announcement comes a little more than a month after the day care fired two employees after two children were able to escape from a gated fence. McKamey said the closure wasn’t forced because of that incident.

She said they took all the appropriate actions needed to ensure something like that wouldn’t happen again. However, that incident did make her realize it was time to close after wanting to for years.

“A lot of people know family’s story. I’ve lost a child. So, I think just the idea that another family would have to deal with the pain my family’s been through and it be under my watch, even indirectly, was just a really heavy thought. It just helped me make my decision and I just felt like that was my sign that it was time,” McKamey said.

McKamey said she had been wanting to close for a few years, but there was never the right time to do so. But now was the right time for her family. “Our construction business took off. It’s a lot to manage. Again, with the market it’s crazy. So it was a lot to keep up with. Our youngest daughter starts kindergarten this year. So it was just, it was just time,” McKamey said.

She said the waiting list at her facility is extensive, and it’s been like that for a while now. She said it got even worse around the pandemic.

Jay Shipley, a parent of three-month-old twins, said it’s been ridiculously hard to find decent child care in the area. “So the day that we found out we were pregnant, literally almost the moment, so other than rejoice, hugging, praise Jesus, we started calling around day cares getting put on the list. Right? Everybody knows there’s a waiting list.”

His oldest daughter is in day care currently, and that place had a waiting list for several months. Being a parent of twins, it was even harder to find child care for two babies.

“So the average wait time was 18 to 24 months. Shockingly, some said we’re not even taking a list. We can put you on a three-year-old list, but that’s how far we’re out. So if you wanna bring them when they’re three,” Shipley said.

Shipley said they called about 15 places across town. All had that wait list, including Mudpies and Music.

Even after the gate incident, Shipley said he talked through things with McKamey and felt his kids would be safe at Mudpies. He got the call on July 1 they had an opening for his twins.

“Fortunately, most day cares do a great job taking care of kids. So you go, you find the places you’re comfortable and you get on the list. And whoever calls first is where you’re going to go,” Shipley said.

His twins had been at the day care for two weeks before he dropped his kids off at Mudpies Wednesday morning and saw a table with a note for parents to pick up the memo.

“So it was a shock. No email, no phone call. Just, ‘hey we’re closing,'” Shipley said.

McKamey said she knew there was never a right time to tell the parents she wanted to close because she knew she had that long wait list, and knew other day cares did as well.

“It’s one of those things that everything had to be timed just right. I wasn’t able to give more of a warning or we would’ve ended up in a really bad position with not enough staff and too many children to care for,” McKamey said.

McKamey said staff to child ratio is very important and legally necessary for a day care.

Shipley understood that but was not happy about how he was told and wasn’t happy that his kids were just accepted into the day care, therefore taking his kids off of other waiting lists.

“There’s nothing open. So your back on the list waiting for the next move-up period to happen next year,” Shipley said.

Fortunately for his family, he has a backup plan in place while they wait for another opening. But, he knows other parents aren’t so lucky.

“People that we know that are pregnant now, all we can tell them is, ‘get on the list. Go get on the list. And be prepared to wait two years,'” Shipley said.

Shipley said it’s an issue that something needs to be done about. He said East Tennessee needs more day care centers. McKamey agreed but said owning a day care has become very hard over the years.

“Child care is not a very lucrative business, obviously you have to have a heart for it. It is stressful. It is hard to find employees. The state guidelines have become more and more stringent and difficult to follow. So, it’s a taxing job,” McKamey said.

McKamey said with her connections from the years of being in the business, she would try to help staff and families find new day cares to go to.

She also said Sept. 3 is the day they hope to close, but if the need is there and they have enough staff to follow the proper ratios, they might stay open a little longer.

According to Shipley, after posting to Facebook about the day care center closing, he got a call from Mudpies staff saying his twins would no longer be clients effective immediately.

McKamey said they are supporting all families for the entire six-week time period, and possibly longer, but there were extenuating circumstances with the Shipley family.

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