Jan. 10, 2023 — “I’m a stay-at-home mom because we can’t afford childcare. … I’m bending over backwards, killing myself mentally, every day, because I have to,” one mother said during a roundtable discussion at the Siuslaw Family Table Event, held last Friday at the Florence Events Center.
The event allowed parents from around the region the opportunity to speak directly with elected officials, nonprofit groups and each other on the difficulties facing they face in the Siuslaw Region.
With childcare provided by the event, parents were given a rare break to sit down, get to know one another and look for solutions on a variety of topics in the region — childcare, family activities, community spaces, Miller Park updates and more.
“Everyone in here has the opportunity to do something really, really important. And it’s not just for us — it’s for the 50 children in the room next door,” said host Anika Miller, who is part of both Siuslaw Family Connection and the Siuslaw Vision, which coordinated the event. “It’s for all of these kids in this community. Thank you for coming here tonight. This is a really important, powerful conversation. It feels small, but I look and I see that it is actually having a big impact.”
The main event of the evening was split up into the roundtable discussions, where participants were able to speak freely on the given topic. Throughout the discussion, they were asked to fill out forms where they could offer solutions to the issues that they experienced, as well as share their struggles with each other.
The moderator of the childcare table reflected what was in everyone’s comments — “It’s a childcare desert, and it’s really affecting people’s existence.”
An oft cited Oregon State University report designated the majority of Oregon counties as “childcare deserts,” defined as “a county with more than three young children from every childcare slot.”
Shortages were particularly felt for infants and toddlers.
For the parent forced out of the workforce because of a lack of childcare, affording childcare was difficult. They made too much money for subsidies, but not enough to pay for the care they needed.
“Even though we make enough, we don’t make enough,” they said, noting they weren’t alone. “I babysit for other parents. I watch three kids … she makes even more money than we do, but she can only afford $20 a day.”
For those who work fulltime or even part-time, scheduling is a nightmare. Some can only find jobs in the evening, after childcare facilities close. Others try to make scheduling work with their spouses.
“I tried to work at night, opposite the schedule of my husband,” one parent said. “I had to stop because my daughter was playing with her Barbies one day, and was like, “Shh, mommy’s sleeping, you can’t make noise.” She just knows I’m sleeping all day long. It lasted a month.”
One person brought up the idea of shared parenting, families coordinating their work schedules to ensure babysitting duties. But many parents are so isolated, they don’t know enough people to make those connections.
“I know a lot of families, especially during COVID, who had babies and are like, ‘I don’t know any other families well enough that I feel comfortable with swapping childcare,” one parent said.
Instead, parents are just “floating out there in Facebook land,” gaining some help from online groups like Florence Oregon Moms and Dads and Mapleton Community Connections, but never making strong, in-person connections.
“We can’t even get anyone to babysit for a date night because I stay at home with our kids — and we can’t go out because we don’t know anybody,” another parent said.
Parents and their children could get together and get to know each other that way, but “Where would you meet?” one parent asked. “We could go to Miller Park, but it rains nine months of the year. Outdoor covered areas are heaven-sent. I grew up in Alaska, and all we had were outdoor covered areas, it was nice.”
“How windy was it?” another parent asked, referring to Florence’s strong summer winds.
Indoor spaces were thought to be limited.
“The library’s a good place, but there is a level of quiet you must keep, and if you have a group of children, it could get above that,” another parent pointed out.
The moderator summed up the needs the parents were stating. “I think we need to create more opportunities for families to make connections so that we can find families that we feel comfortable and safe with.”
There were plenty of ideas to make that happen, some utilizing existing childcare programs.
“I wonder if even working with established childcare facilities, if they had a night a month open,” the moderator offered.
That could allow “parent date night, where parents could drop off their kiddos and go on a date. That would be so cool,” a participant said.
“Some people don’t want to be a childcare provider in their home, but if there was an empty facility where people like ourselves can take a group class to be a childcare provider, that would in some ways offer more options,” the moderator said, later adding that could include training teenagers in childcare.
A parent added, “What if there’s a facility that had a camera that you could keep an eye out on?”
Background checks could be performed, insurance could be purchased.
But there were still questions, including who would run these programs, how they would be funded and where they would be located?
Community Meeting Spaces
During a second round of discussion at the “Community Meeting Spaces” table, the moderator began by listing a group of “free, for non-profit use, spaces” such as the Siuslaw Public Library, Oregon Pacific Bank, Banner Bank, Mapleton Lion’s Club, PeaceHealth, Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, and the Siuslaw Watershed building.
“Those are all free spaces, most of them I didn’t even know about,” the moderator continued.
The group focused more on a wider variety of activities, beyond basic childcare, in their discussion.
“Having a place for those events to happen, whether it’s a dance, or a game night — an existing space would be a great place to start,” one participant said.
While participants knew pockets of their immediate community well, they were often unaware of options regionally. While a Mapleton family had attended multiple Lion’s Club events, they didn’t know that their local fire station offered space.
“Seeing that list is really exciting,” one parent said. “So many of the things we were talking about, we weren’t aware of.”
To sign up for meeting spaces, they suggested a community calendar that would show all available spaces, along with scheduling and signup opportunities. Another suggestion was a community space hub that matches groups to spaces available.
“Maybe [groups] could rotate, like the Lion’s club hosting it one night, and then another at the Florence Event’s Center,” one participant said.
One teen brought up an outdoor adventure club in Mapleton, which they called a “very land-based mindset,” which circumvents the need for a building.
“We could partner with the Watershed, or the tribe,” another family member added, also mentioning outdoor activities from the Department of Forestry.
But when the weather turns, options get smaller.
“I’m homeschooled, so I can’t participate in any public school dances unless I’m invited,” one teen said, pointing to the lack of dances for people under 21. “I’m 15 and I’ve never been to a dance.”
“Activities for teens, that would be ideal,” one group member added. “One Saturday night would be a dance, the second Saturday would be a D&D Club, or a family game night.”
Both age-specific and multigenerational activities were important.
“The whole family, everyone learning from each other,” said one participant.
But the logistics of the events can be complicated, from finding sponsors, organizers and providing services, such as childcare or food.
“If we’re going to ask parents to bring their teenagers who can’t drive yet, we need to feed them. Meeting some basic needs will help bring people out,” one parent said.
And whatever the event is, organizers will be met with both successes and challenges.
“Our successes are the amazing kids. The kids who get straight As in their classes, the kids who go to college and graduate with high honors,” said Melanie Heard, founder and creative director of CROW. She helped close out the night on the successes of the nonprofit children’s theater program.
“The successes are the parents in the room, who suddenly realize why they put in all those hours taking their kids to these rehearsals,” she continued. “The success is the audience who is entertained and forget their troubles for a while.”
As for challenges, she stated that in a small community it was difficult to find people CROW needs for its programs. She spoke of two dance teachers who were leaving the company, one who was having a baby, and the other who was joining the PeaceCorps.
“But what do we do when we lose two dance teachers who live in a small town of 9,000 people? We can’t just manufacture another dance teacher,” she said, emphasizing why people working together and coming up with ideas was so important. “We can draw those people to our community that’s high quality, younger, and they have a reason to be here. So that’s part of the big conversation.”
To make that work, people will have to reach out to one another, stay in touch and get involved, the speakers said.
“I asked myself what motivated me to be involved. It has changed over time, in middle school, leaving class early, hanging out with a friend,” said Jennifer Ledbetter, Siuslaw Vision Team member. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s similar: making friendships, working together to get what couldn’t be done alone, being done together — and choosing the communities that I want to live in.”
She continued by stressing that small towns are built on volunteerism, and those who seek solutions will need to donate time.
“If you want a PTA talent show, you may need to help. If you want a farmers market, you may need to join a committee,” she said. “I look around and programs like CROW literally couldn’t exist without its volunteers. Sometimes it seems like a sacrifice, while others a privilege,” Ledbetter said, adding she hoped the event felt more like a privilege.
“We can together to talk about what we want in our community, to listen to what others want to learn more about what exists, and maybe learn in some small way that we can contribute in the future.”
In the coming weeks, the Siuslaw Vision will compile the comments written by the night's participants and release their findings. To find out more information on Siuslaw Vision, along with community resources, projects and an updated community calendar, visit siuslawvision.org.
To learn more about Siuslaw Family Connection, visit https://www.siuslawfamilyconnection.org