55 Left Without Care After Juneau Daycare Abruptly Closes

Infant and toddler care facility Spunky Sprouts Too in Juneau shut down abruptly at the close of business Wednesday after key staff members quit. Its preschool, Spunky Sprouts Learning Center, is closing at the end of the month.

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Heather Carlton and 2-year-old son Theo were at home Thursday after Spunky Sprouts Too suddenly shut down. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Heather Carlton and 2-year-old son Theo were at home Thursday after Spunky Sprouts Too suddenly shut down. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Parents of 55 infants and toddlers have been scrambling to find childcare after Spunky Sprouts Too shut down.

Heather Carlton stayed home from work Thursday morning to figure out where her 2-year-old son Theo will now go to daycare.

She says she got a call early Wednesday from a Spunky Sprouts employee about the imminent closure.

“I was in a state of panic trying to figure out, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to find somebody to watch him on such short notice?’ You know, there’s already very limited options in Juneau anyways,” Carlton says.

Carlton also has a 4-year-old named Arlo who’s been going to Spunky Sprouts for a few years. She says she’s been happy with the care.

“He was very quickly potty trained. His reading skills – very satisfied with it. He’s moving along very well so I’m very sad about having to make any sort of change and possibly disrupt his education,” Carlton says.

Carlton found spots at another daycare for both kids, but other parents haven’t been as lucky.

Spunky Sprouts administrator Shamila Scalf says staff members started quitting in September. She says some worried they wouldn’t be paid. Scalf has worked at the center for three years and says, as long as she’s been there, Spunky Sprouts has always had budget issues.

This sign was found on the door of Spunky Sprouts Too located on 9315 Glacier Highway. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
This sign was found on the door of Spunky Sprouts Too located on 9315 Glacier Highway. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Administrators say they received instructions by email from owner Adam Hendren to distribute three letters to parents on Sept. 29 about downsizing and a change of facility.

Spunky Sprouts Too for infants and toddlers was located off Glacier Highway in the Mendenhall Valley. The preschool, Spunky Sprouts Leaning Center, is in Aldersgate United Methodist Church, also in the valley.

One letter says the infant program would end Oct. 31. The other letters say the toddler andpreschool program would move to the Church of the Nazarene.

So, according to the letters, three programs in two buildings were supposed to become two programs in one building.

Instead, the infant and toddler programs shut down Oct. 1 when the main administrator quit and other staff members followed. And, Scalf says, the preschool center is not moving as indicated in the letter – it’s closing at the end of the month.

But due to lack of staff, she’s already turning some children and parents away at the start of each day. Scalf is the only staff member remaining at Spunky Sprouts with a Child Development Associate credential. State regulation says there can be no more than 30 children under her supervision.

“I have 37 registered, paying their fee every month, and I have to send home at least seven. Whoever comes in, number 31, I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I cannot provide care for you because there’s nobody else,’ and it’s embarrassing,” Scalf says.

Childcare center Puddle JumpersDevelopmental Learning Center closed in August. After both Spunky Sprouts centers close, only six licensed full-day childcare centers are left in Juneau, according to the Association for the Education of Young Children. There are two part-day childcare centers. Their total capacity is 288 kids.

There are 15 licensed in-home childcare providers with capacity for 143 kids.

“We have the worst situation in the state for childcare right now,” says Joy Lyon, executive director of the Southeast chapter of AEYC.

“The number of parents searching for care is way, way off the charts in Juneau. There was only one space for every five children that needed care and now I think that’s dropped to one space for every six children needing care,” Lyon says.

She says her office has been flooded with calls, emails and visits from Spunky Sprouts parents, many in tears.

“We do regular updates of all the programs to find out what openings are available and there are very few openings,” she says.

Lyon says there’s a group working on starting a childcare program to serve the Spunky Sprouts families, a process that could take anywhere from one to three months.

Every first Tuesday of the month, AEYC hosts a networking opportunity for parents struggling to find childcare. The next event is Oct.7.

Spunky Sprouts Learning Centers owner Adam Hendren did not return calls for comment. His wife Jennifer started Spunky Sprouts. According to state records, the first business license for childcare in her name dates back to 2007.