Although most offices and schools have reopened, the pandemic is still hurting child care and after-school programs. Parents face daunting wait lists. Child care centers, which already operated on thin margins before the pandemic, are shuttering classrooms and capping enrollment numbers because of severe teacher shortages and a lack of funding.

“We knew the pandemic put a huge strain on a system that was already strained, so this is just a continuous struggle that’s been made worse,” said Nina Perez, the early childhood national campaign director for MomsRising, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on supporting policies that help women, mothers and families.

The shortage of spaces means that some parents are still shut out of careers and losing income. Others have uprooted their lives and moved closer to family to receive more help. Still more are struggling to take care of their kids while working from home. Perez said the situation in recent months has become so tenuous that parents have told her they are taking out loans for child care or considering unsafe arrangements, like leaving young children alone for periods of time or with frail elderly family members.

In a late summer U.S. Census Bureau survey of households, more than 365,000 adults reported losing a job because they needed to take time to care for children under the age of 5 in the four weeks preceding the survey. More than 1.3 million responded that an adult in the household left a job to care for children. More than 1.6 million supervised one or more children while working.

Making sure parents can work and provide for their children is critical to the economy and for many aspects of society, experts say. Parents with minor children make up almost one-third of the workforce and work disproportionately in fields like retail, education, health care, and social assistance, according to a report by the Brookings Institute.

Read the full article about the challenges of childcare for parents by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.