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'There's nothing here' | Parents struggling with little or no options in childcare deserts

In Grainger County, there are no licensed child care facilities that accept children under 3 years old. Parents in nearby counties face similar situations.

GRAINGER COUNTY, Tenn. — In Grainger County, weeds grow outside the daycare that once gave Briana Howerton a chance.

"If it wasn't for this daycare being open during that time, there is no way I'd have been able to finish school," she said. "I didn't have family who were able to watch him."

Those days are long gone. Old mattresses and clothes rest in the parking lot, taking up the spaces where cars used to park. The doors are locked shut. 

She's thankful to work from home most days, but is forced to call out often if no one able to watch her younger kids.

"For daycare, there's nothing here," she said. "During those times that I don't have anyone to watch my kids, it takes a lot of money out of our home."

Briana tried putting her youngest daughter on a waiting list in Morristown when she was just 3 months old. 

"She's fixing to start pre-K," Briana said. "I haven't even heard from them."

She is not the only parent looking for help in a daycare desert. If you're a parent, you know how hard it is to find childcare right now.

We investigated and found several so-called "childcare deserts" in East Tennessee, from Claiborne County all the way down to Monroe County. The Center for American Progress defines those as places with fewer than one licensed child care spot for every three children under 5 years old.

In Grainger County, there are licensed spots for just one in six children across the county. None of them are offered to children under 3 years old.

A 10News review found that is fewer options than in any other county in the state.

Credit: WBIR Data Team

"Unless you've got family or really close friends, you're just kind of up the creek," Makayla Liquori said. "[Daycares in other counties] are so full of kids there that they can't really fit anything."

In neighboring Union and Jefferson counties, there are spots for just one in four children. It's not much of an improvement in Hawkins, Claiborne, Campbell, and Morgan counties where there are spots for just one in three children.

That's why working during the nights was Makayla's only option when she decided to return to work.

"Either people want a ridiculous amount of money, like half my paycheck, or you have to be on a list for so long," she said. "We don't have child care. So [my husband] works first shift, and I work seconds."

She said they only see each other about two days a week because of their opposite schedules. She wishes the situation were different.

"It's terrible. It is terrible," she said. "I feel like we should have more daycares around here, especially government-assisted."

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