When COVID-19 was layered onto the already fragile child care system, it shattered. Many providers remain closed or are in danger of closing, parents are struggling to find child care arrangements that will allow them to work productively, and without a reliable, steady workforce, our country will not recover economically from the pandemic-related shutdown.
No Child Care, No Recovery.
We’re hearing from many parents like Kate Aronoff in Oregon. When her child care center closed due to the pandemic, she enrolled her two young children in another program in the area. Sadly, only a couple weeks later, that program closed permanently as well.
Aronoff is now scrambling to arrange care for her children. This has caused stress and she worries about her children’s safety and development without access to a quality early childhood program.
One in five working-age adults said the reason they were not working was because COVID-19 disrupted their child care arrangements. Of those not working, women ages 25 to 44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to child care demands. About one in three of these women are not working because of child care, compared to 12% of men in the same age group.
We’re also hearing from child care providers like Lesia Daniels in Mississippi, who has kept her center open throughout the pandemic. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, she had to deal with a significantly reduced enrollment, from 360 children to 56 children.
Enrollment is up again, but Daniels told us that everything costs significantly more now, from cleaning supplies to additional staff to handle smaller group sizes for the children. Daniels doesn’t want to raise tuition rates because many families may not be able to afford it. She’s worried that her center may not make it.
As of July 2020, 35% of child care centers and 21% of family child care programs remained closed nationwide. Child care attendance and enrollment remained significantly lower than they were at the start of 2020. Seventeen of 32 states that submitted data for July 2020 lost more than 25% of their child care capacity.
The situation is fluid and the number and capacity of providers may change as the number of COVID-19 cases changes.
The child care system relies on a patchwork of funding streams that places too high a burden on families paying the price of care and on educators working for low wages—about $11.65/hour—often without employer-supported health insurance, creating clear inequities.
And many child care providers won’t make it. State surveys around the country estimate that 30% to 50% of providers could permanently close due to the pandemic.
What’s Being Done to Support Parents and Child Care Providers?
Child Care Resource & Referral agencies across the country are assisting child care programs with applying for federal assistance and administering federal funding to providers. They are also supporting the child care needs of essential workers, and helping parents understand how to navigate the system and secure financial assistance for child care.
States have enacted numerous temporary policies since the start of the pandemic to help support the stability and viability of providers, protect the health and safety of child care workers, and support families’ access to child care as they return to work.
However, many of these are temporary fixes and are not expected to be extended as states reopen. It is critical that states build off these stopgap policies and assess what other supports are needed long-term.
But states can’t do it alone. Without meaningful federal investment in child care, there will be barriers for parents as they return to work. Federal support is particularly important now as states begin to face budget shortfalls.
As our country moves through the various phases of recovery and reopening the economy, no industry will be able to restart if the child care industry collapses.
Ways to Get Involved:
- Connect with a local, state or national advocacy organization. Child Care Aware of America, for example, has multiple ways to connect to a national movement with templates, toolkits and ways to take action.
- Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency can keep you updated on the availability of child care in your area. There may be opportunities to support local child care providers with supplies or financial assistance to help them stay open or re-open. If you need to find your local CCR&R, we have a search tool on our website.
By Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., CEO of Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit organization that works with over 450 state and local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies and other partners to ensure that all families have access to quality, affordable child care. Dr. Fraga began her career in early childhood as a teacher in infant, toddler and preschool classrooms, and has since held positions at the local, state, and national level within the nonprofit, corporate, and higher education sectors.
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