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Childgarden

In a photo from 2002, a teacher identified as Reda Scott helps a 4-year-old boy formerly enrolled at Childgarden Early Childhood Center. The photo was taken in the center's playground designed for disabled and typically developing children to play together. Photo by David Kennedy.

Childgarden Early Childhood Center in the Central West End will close in September, parents were informed Tuesday via email.

The president of St. Louis Arc, which operates the center, cited “changes in our strategic direction” for the closure. St. Louis Arc is the local affiliate of the nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Childgarden day care center and preschool placed typically developing children in the same classrooms as their peers with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.

“This decision (to close) has been made in order to redirect our resources to services that will impact a greater number of children with disabilities across the St. Louis community,” said Mark Keeley of Arc. “While the reason for this decision is ultimately to better deliver on the St. Louis Arc’s mission, we regret the disappointing burden this places on your family.”

Keeley did not respond to an interview request.

Patricia Reid’s 2-year-old daughter enrolled at Childgarden in May, with no indication of any trouble. They came to the center after their last day care, Peace For Kids Child Development Center in the Central West End, closed earlier this year. Reid said she is still on wait lists at some centers from the previous search.

“Now we start doing the tours again,” Reid said. “It does make me nervous for the next place we go.”

Last September, Childgarden downsized from 10 classrooms to five. The center laid off nine staff members and 20 families were told they no longer had spots. At the time, enrollment was expected to be 72.

Those cuts were caused by a teacher shortage, Keeley said.

A national shortage of affordable, licensed child care means nearly one-third of working parents report difficulties finding care, according to a 2018 report from business group ReadyNation.

Matt Miller said his family felt lucky to find Childgarden for their daughter Penelope, now 3, when they moved to St. Louis in 2017.

“To find day care for a kid under 18 months is really challenging,” Miller said. “Before Penelope was even born we had her on a waiting list.”

Miller said the family is now scrambling to find an opening, after the typical cycle when preschools fill up in the spring.

“I feel like the people that are making these decisions maybe don’t know how these things work,” Miller said. “Three months ago would have made things easier.”

Blythe Bernhard is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.