Happy Face plans month-end closure

Flandreau’s only licensed group day care is closing, leaving some families scrambling to find places for their children to go.

Happy Face Place on First Avenue will close at the end of the year because owner Stephanie Jungwirth and her family are moving to Minnesota. Closing the day care, which has been in business since 1977 and employs six workers, leaves a void in the community that has limited places for children to spend their day while parents work, Jungwirth said.

The day care, which can have 20 children at a time, is not able to be sold as is because state requirements have changed and the facility had been grandfathered in until now. The state would require separate gender bathrooms and children wouldn’t be able to use the kitchen as a walk-through area, she said. “The state wants the floor plan compliance issues corrected before someone could take over.”

Jungwirth, who has had the business more than nine years, won’t be making the investment in the home where the day care is located. She will start a new job Jan. 8 in Mound, Minn., working for My Pillow.

The closing has helped raise the issue of how difficult it is to find child care in Flandreau and has led others in the community to get involved in solving the shortage of a licensed care, she said.

A community meeting to talk about child-care needs is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the William J. Janklow Community Center.

The Happy Face Place is the only licensed group family day care in Flandreau, and the community also has two registered family day care providers, according to state records. In addition, there are about five unregistered providers in Flandreau, the state estimates.

Families who receive child care assistance are required to use either a licensed or registered provider, someone who cares for only one family or a relative provider, said Tia Kafka, communications director with the state Department of Social Services.

That rule applies to some of the 24 families Jungwirth serves, she said. “There’s a lot of day cares that aren’t licensed. That puts a lot of families unable to use them.”

Jungwirth said the city may be able to help with that issue by requiring a local registration, similar to what Sioux Falls and other communities have.

Jungwirth has a waiting list for her day care and gets a handful of calls each week from people looking for care. “If you’re looking for child care, obviously it’s hard to find day care in Flandreau,” she said. “It’s a definite need.”

The state Department of Social Services has not yet received calls from families needing to find child care, said Tia Kafka, communications director. The state can help families who need help.

“Licensing staff is working with the community to identify needs and solutions to those needs,” Kafka said.

The licensed day care closing could be hard for some families in the community, said Don Whitman, city administrator.

“It is going to put some parents in Flandreau in a bind by not having a state licensed day care,” he said.

Under state regulations, if an individual wanted to transfer ownership of a licensed facility to another person, the day care would typically be allowed to operate during that process, Kafka said. Anyone applying to license a new facility would have to have the license in place first before opening, she said. The process includes a facility plan and information related to qualifications of staff.

“The time it takes depends largely on how quickly those items can be submitted for review,” she said. “In situations where care is needed immediately, the department can assist the program in getting started as long as certain requirements like fire and life safety are in place while policies and procedures are being developed.”

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