New graduates trying child care in South Dakota

By Jackie Hendry

For South Dakota News Watch

Posted 5/20/24

Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of stories on children that Jackie Hendry, producer and host of SDPB's "South Dakota Focus" is writing for South Dakota News Watch. Each month, she …

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New graduates trying child care in South Dakota


Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of stories on children that Jackie Hendry, producer and host of SDPB's "South Dakota Focus" is writing for South Dakota News Watch. Each month, she previews the upcoming show.

SIOUX FALLS — Thousands of South Dakota high schoolers are planning their first steps into adulthood this graduation season. Some may follow relatives into the family business of farming, law or teaching. Others, like Cordelia Rieck of Sioux Falls, plan to join the family business of raising families.

The number of day cares in South Dakota has almost halved since 2009, from 1,195 to 646 in 2020, according to the Kids Count Data Center. The Rieck family is among the dozens of families in South Dakota that run in-home or family day cares. That journey began years before Cordelia was born.

"Oddly enough, we had gone to see 'Daddy Day Care' in the theater," said Karen Rieck, Cordelia's mom. "And that's what got my brain going. Like, 'Really, you can do this. You can do child care out of your home. You don't have to run a center.'"

A week later, the Riecks were creating a business plan. That was 21 years ago.

Today, Mrs. Karen's House Childcare and Preschool is a state-registered family day care with capacity for a dozen children. The family atmosphere of an in-home operation is important to Karen and husband Justin, who also works in the day care.

In fact, a connection made through one of their early clients helped the Riecks expand their own family. They'd previously been told having children would be difficult, if not impossible, based on some health complications. Then, they watched the child of a pharmacy assistant.

"She's the one who introduced me to a physician who was able to figure out what was wrong," Karen remembered with a smile. "Needed some help, but I have four kids now."

Cordelia is the oldest. She graduates from Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School this month.

"She was born into family child care," said Karen. "We literally had her on a Thursday at 6:27 p.m. and our doors were open on Monday."

"Well, I've never had a bad experience of going to somebody else's day care," Cordelia explained matter-of-factly. "I always had somebody to play with!"

Cordelia still plays and helps with the day care kids before and after school.

"I come back and all of them, they bombard me at the stairs. I don't even make it up the stairs, and they're just all over me. It's great," she said.

When it came time to decide what to do after high school, Cordelia knew one thing for sure: "I just wanted to help people. I didn't care how."

As a child, she'd considered being a doctor or veterinarian. Today, she shudders at the math and science involved.

"And I was like, 'You know, I want to help people. I can help children.' Because first of all, I love children and children usually love me because I am a child," Cordelia joked.

South Dakota does not require child care providers to hold higher education credentials for licensing purposes. But research demonstrates a relationship between a child's earliest years and their future learning outcomes, so many providers and parents want to see child care staff with some level of specialized education.

Some child care and preschool providers have begun requiring a one-year Child Development Associate as a minimum credential to lead a classroom, though there are more intensive options. South Dakota State University in Brookings offers the only four-year degree specialization in early childhood education in the state. Northern State University in Aberdeen began offering a two-year associate degree in early childhood education just last year, along with scholarships sponsored by the state Department of Social Services.

Ultimately, Cordelia Rieck decided on an early childhood specialist associate degree from Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls.

"I wanted to stay here because I wanted to help here," she explained.

Cordelia said none of her classmates are considering a career in child care. Recent coverage of low wages for child care providers likely doesn't help. In 2021, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said child care workers earn in the bottom 2% of occupations the nation. That has contributed to staff burnout, which perpetuates the lack of child care providers. A 2022 report from South Dakota's Department of Social Services put the turnover rate of direct care staff at 88 percent. However, that same report shows the lowest turnover rate among group family day care providers, at 60 percent. It's unclear the turnover rate for registered family daycares like the Rieck's.

Karen Rieck believes her daughter has seen both the challenges and the benefits of running a family day care.

"Having Justin and I both home all the time, she actually got to have us here," she explained. "She had that friend group here that she grew up with. ... I think she also sees on those days when it's 30-below and we're standing here with our hot cup of coffee and people are coming to us, and we didn't have to go out in that. There's perks to that."

In the meantime, Cordelia is looking forward to high school graduation and the next steps — even if few of her peers are worker toward the same goal.

"The average teenager does not care at all. It's kind of sad because they don't have any of the childlike experiences after their childhood. I get to experience them every single day," she said.