The Santee Sioux Tribe wants to put a day care at its community center, a plan that also gives hope for bringing the Head Start program back to Flandreau.
The tribe, if given state licensing approval, would like to have day care spots for at least 13 children by Jan. 2 to coincide with the closure of Happy Face Place, the only licensed group day care in Flandreau, said Vicki Anderson, tribal child care development fund administrator.
“We have a preschool, former kindergarten teacher who would be working with us, and we’ll go from there. We’re looking at probably hiring staff from Happy Face that otherwise would be unemployed,” Anderson said.
The tribe knows of six children under three and seven over age three that are enrolled tribal members and attended Happy Face. The children could be in two rooms at the community center, which already hosts an after-school program.
“It could be less of a stressful situation for kids in this move,” she said of the plan to provide a place for those families. “I didn’t know this would be such an emergency. Thirteen of our kids are going there. That make an emergency for us as well.”
Happy Face Place is closing at the end of the year because its owner and her family are moving to Minnesota for new jobs. The business, which has been open since the fall of 1977, employs six workers and could take up to 20 children. The day care can’t be sold as is because state requirements have changed and the facility had been grandfathered in until now. Its space would no longer meet state requirements.
Anderson has had calls from parents and was part of a community meeting last week that brought together child care providers, tribal leaders, a representative of the state Department of Social Services, Head Start program leaders, parents and community members. She spoke briefly to one parent and tribal member who was looking for care.
“They were concerned about what they’re going to do with their baby that looked about three months old,” Anderson said.
The community center space could be a temporary answer, but the tribe also is looking at making the empty former clinic into a child care center that could be open to any children if it is state licensed, she said. It also could be a place for the Head Start program.
“The tribe is making child care its priority,” Anderson said. She also is looking at extended hours for child care for families who work evenings or nights, including those with jobs at the Royal River Casino, and have trouble finding care for their children during those shifts. It’s an unmet need, she said.
Interlakes Community Action Partnership, a Madison-based non-profit that administers the federal grant for Head Start, wants to have the program back in Flandreau by Aug. 18 when school starts, said Steph Lebeda, Head Start, pre-birth to 5 director.
The program was last held in May 2016 because the space it was using at the public school was needed for classrooms. It would be open to 17 children who meet the guidelines for admission.
“We see the need, too, to be back there and definitely want to be,” she said of having a Flandreau classroom. While she hasn’t looked at space owned by the tribe, she said she felt good about the community meeting and the ability to find something that works for Head Start programming. In addition to a classroom, she would need an office and access to a kitchen.
“That’s our goal is to find space. That’s our only roadblock with getting a classroom back there is a location,” Lebeda said. Space within a tribal building most likely would work. “If it meets licensing standards, it would most likely meet all of our standards as well.”
Emily Pieper with Studio 52 helped organize the meeting because although she doesn’t use child care, she understands its importance. She was pleased with the way people worked together.
“I just like to help build community whenever possible. To me if we don’t have child care the community won’t be here to build,” she said. “We have to change our thinking to help solve community issues with community input.”