Withâ€¯overâ€¯a half centuryâ€¯in the family care business, our organization and staff have been faced withâ€¯allâ€¯theâ€¯familiar challengesâ€¯of our field.â€¯We areâ€¯accustomedâ€¯to enrollment flexes, challenges of finding qualified staff, theâ€¯ever-developingâ€¯childrenâ€™sâ€¯programming, plusâ€¯meeting and exceedingâ€¯the guidelines of the Department of Education.â€¯But 2020 has pushedâ€¯us to stretch, flex and think on our feet in ways weâ€¯did notâ€¯know possible.â€¯With centers closing,â€¯combining,â€¯facingâ€¯new dailyâ€¯requiredâ€¯practices, and flexing around at-home-learning needs,â€¯theâ€¯child careâ€¯industry has been throughâ€¯everythingâ€¯this year.
According to aâ€¯survey conductedâ€¯this summer by theâ€¯NAEYCâ€¯(National Association of Education of Young Children),â€¯it isâ€¯estimated over 40% of U.S. child care centers willâ€¯permanentlyâ€¯close without publicâ€¯assistance.â€¯The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our industry head-on.â€¯On average, enrollment is down by 67%, whileâ€¯additionalâ€¯costs for staffing, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment are upâ€¯substantially.
We know there isâ€¯aâ€¯vaccineâ€¯on the horizon, as well asâ€¯resources to helpâ€¯betterâ€¯control the spread of COVID-19,â€¯but overall,â€¯the future of the child care industry isâ€¯alarminglyâ€¯unknown.â€¯With theâ€¯struggles of the lastâ€¯eightâ€¯monthsâ€¯pairedâ€¯withâ€¯an uncertainâ€¯future,â€¯aâ€¯compounded voidâ€¯is being createdâ€¯throughout theâ€¯industry.
In many ways, child care programs make our adult worlds go round; without care, parents cannot fulfill the needs of their jobs, resulting in more positions sitting open. We know that this specificallyâ€¯willâ€¯hinder women mostâ€¯â€“ it has been said that the pandemic willâ€¯take women 10 years backâ€¯in the workplace.
If we cannot fill open positions due to a lack of child care, unemployment rates will remain high,â€¯and our economy will continue to suffer.â€¯According toâ€¯Econofact.org,â€¯â€˜The longer that the childcare crisis continues, it is likely that more parents, primarily women, will need to drop out of the labor force to care forâ€¯children. A full economic recovery simply cannot happen without adequate childcare.â€™â€¯Child care institutions help to sustain our economic growthâ€¯inâ€¯state,â€¯nationalâ€¯andâ€¯globalâ€¯levels.
Just last week, California officials released the Master Plan for Early Learning and Childcare, an outline of the remodeling of the stateâ€™s child care system. Although the goals of the plan address many key issues in our industry, it doesnâ€™t confront the devastating impact that COVID has had on child care providers. The plan is promising, but in the immediate term we need to face the challenges looming in our industry as we crawl through a global pandemic with the hopes of emerging intact on the other side.
Whileâ€¯we transition back to our everyday lives, we know that working parents will need care, children will be ready to socialize, and child careâ€¯programsâ€¯willâ€¯beâ€¯neededâ€¯more than ever.â€¯With enrollment down, costs rising and an economic turn to something more normal, the child care industry needs assistance, soon.â€¯Forâ€¯our local and national economiesâ€¯to get rolling in a positive direction, we need to invest in the care of our children, now more than ever.
Susan Dumars is president of Catalyst Family Inc., a non-profit based in Morgan Hill operating child care centers (Catalyst Kids) in more than 40 school districts throughout California.