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The 'Daycare Desert' in East Tennessee is real as childcare waitlists grow

48% of the Tennessee population lives in a daycare desert, where there is little to no accessible child care.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The waitlist for daycares and childcare facilities is long. 

According to the state, that means as many as 40,000 parents are making career-related sacrifices to stay home with their young ones.

That issue is related to something called a "daycare desert," which means there are not enough childcare facilities to support the amount of children in the given area.

The proper definition of a daycare desert is three kids in the area for every one spot open at daycare.

In rural areas of East Tennessee, 62% of people are living in a daycare desert. Some of those rural areas don't even have one daycare center.

In cities and suburbia, like Knoxville and Knox County 40% of people still live in a daycare desert, which makes the hunt for childcare expensive, competitive, and long.

Sarah Baker, a new mother, started looking for daycare centers when she fire became pregnant. 

"I actually got on the list at several daycares back in April when I was in my first trimester," Baker said.

Now, her son, Brooks is two months old. The Baker family is still on all of those waitlists.

"I didn't realize that finding daycare in Knoxville is going to be almost as difficult as the Knoxville housing market right now," Baker said.

Baker first heard about the competitive daycare market from some of her friends, who are also mothers. That's how she knew to apply early. Two of the four center's she applied at required security deposits to secure Brooks' spot on the waitlist. 

"We're still on the waiting list at all four. So, I'm planning on working from home to ease into it a little bit.  But basically, if I had to work in-person and was looking for care to start February 1, I still wouldn't have it at this point," Baker said.

Baker plans to work from home until she finds a daycare solution; however, Baker knows that's not a doable solution for every family.

"If I had to basically clock in somewhere every morning, you know, come January, we would be in a much worse position than we're kind of in right now," Baker said.

She is hoping to get her son into a daycare service as soon as possible, but thinks it will be closer to May or August until they actually find an opening.

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