FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Child care centers cross Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley are facing a staffing crisis.

The University of Arkansas Fort Smith held a job fair Tuesday, April 26 specifically for those wanting to get into the early childhood education field and as a way to help local facilities find workers.

Over 20 centers from the River Valley were represented at the job fair, which is just a small fraction of the number of centers who are understaffed.

Shelli Henehan is the Early Childhood Education Director at UAFS. She said COVID is to blame for the lack of educators in facilities caring for kids under six years old because many places had to let go of employees during the pandemic.

Another reason Henehan said many people are leaving the industry is the low wages.

Henehan said there is a partial solution: the Arkansas Early Childhood Association’s T.E.A.C.H. scholarship. It pays up to 95% of college tuition and fees for those who are currently working in childcare centers.

“The more college I’ve gotten over the years, the more your income does rise, and the same does get held true in childcare as well,” said Henehan.

Robin Slaton, the owner of Kiddie Campus Child Care Center in Fayetteville, has spent more than 24 years in childcare, and has yet to see a staffing shortage like the one facing her industry right now.

“That’s part of the struggle,” said Slaton. “It’s constantly trying to hire, constantly trying to train and then constantly a revolving door. Then it’s hard on the kids because they no longer have that consistency of who their teacher is. So it just amplifies all the challenges of what we go through.”

Slaton said they offer their employees $13-15 an hour, which she said isn’t enough to compete with other professions. In fact, she’s had to replace more than 30 employees in just the last year.

To help solve some of the issues in the childcare industry and support other preschool and daycare owners, Slaton is starting ‘Change for Early Childhood Education’. You can find more information on her advocacy mission the book she wrote here.

If you’re looking for a job in the childcare industry, you can visit reach out to Child Care Aware and they’ll help you get connected with a facility. Also, you can reach out to the UAFS Early Childhood Education Outreach and Coaching Coordinator by calling 479-788-7605 to get in touch with one of the organizations at the job fair.