FESTUS, Mo. – A daycare center in Festus will permanently close its doors this month, forcing families of more than 100 kids to find new help.
The Wee Care Learning Center plans to shut down on Dec. 17 due to costs. Staff members said they received notices over the past couple of months, warning them that the daycare would eventually close — but the owner’s decision to shut down earlier than anticipated hit them hard.
“It was so sudden. We don’t know what to do, and we’re in limbo,” said Dianne Russom, the lead teacher at the Wee Care Learning Center.
Retirement isn’t in the cards, but it’s the kids they’re more concerned about.
“I mean there are some still starting next week,” said Russo. “They’re going to do the last two weeks that they can do with us because they were on maternity leave, and they have nowhere else to go.”
Parents like J.R. Hamilton said they don’t know what to do, as many daycare centers in the area have a waitlist.
“Everyone is scrambling, not just ourselves to find childcare, but the whole Jefferson County is just inundated,” said Hamilton.
Some parents said they will have to temporarily leave their jobs or reduce their work hours to stay at home with their kids.
“I’m going to have to take three to six months off from work just to be home,” said parent Nicole Kilian.
Another parent, Ryan Fonner, said: “My wife and I both work at Mercy at the outpatient treatment center and we’re actually having to go down to part-time care for them.”
Donna Ames, the assistant director at the Wee Care Learning Center, said the closure is especially hard because the staff has built a connection with all the children.
“You can tell that the parents have told their kids that they’re going somewhere else, and they’re having the same emotions that we all are,“ said Ames.
In 2019, a ballot measure was approved by Festus School District voters to raise taxes to pave the way for new projects, including an early childhood program.
In a statement, the Festus School District Superintendent said: “It is a facility that checks all of the boxes that would be required to start an early childhood education program in the district. The district has not yet closed on the facility, but we are hopeful that will occur in the coming weeks.”
The district’s early childhood program, won’t start until later in 2023.
For those still looking for new childcare, the school district is in talks with other childcare agencies to provide care after they close.
A Wee Care parent also made a Facebook group called “Families of Wee Care” to connect parents from the past and present.