Child Care Crisis Amplified by COVID-19
Stephanie Cain is upbeat. While COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on her business, she’s quick to point out how she has been more fortunate than some. When the coronavirus hit in March, Cain was forced to close her in-home child care program. With the bulk of her parents working in education and schools closed, the parents decided to keep their children at home.
Her story is not unusual. The Family Conservancy began tracking program closures in March, and with many parents limited to working from home and others unfortunately out of work, demand quickly diminished. While many providers closed their programs completely, the more frequent scenario involved reduced enrollment, but staying open to meet the needs of essential workers. Often at a higher cost, as sites increased cleaning and provided PPE.
With a lot of unknowns as to how long it would be until things went back to normal, most thought they could weather a few weeks of reduced income. But, as weeks turned into months, and diminishing savings gave way to growing debt, many providers began considering closing in an attempt to cut their losses.
Program closures peaked in May just short of 30 percent, but as the pandemic carried on, a more worrisome trend arose. After five months of operating in the red, many providers began choosing to close their doors for good.
A recent, nationwide survey conducted by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), shows that 40 percent of providers “are certain that they will close permanently without additional public assistance.”
Unique In-home Child Care Model
What makes in-home child care such a vital part of our system is its ability to be flexible and meet families’ individual needs. For Cain, this is exactly what has enabled her to survive. Cain’s program serves teachers – and like the parents she serves, she typically takes summers off. Rather than facing five or more months of reduced income, Cain was used to not having income over the summer.
Cain looked into the unemployment benefits and many of the emergency loans that were available, but since her program traditionally closed during the summer, she didn’t qualify for many of the opportunities that could have offered her a quick influx of cash. Instead, Cain applied for a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) Loan and dipped into her savings to cover costs. After five months without an income, her loan was approved, and she received reimbursement for a small portion of her lost revenue.
Cain sees other advantages of being a small program, the families that attend her program are a tight-knit group. They all know each other and are comfortable with their children interacting because they are confident in their adherence to social distancing guidelines. When schools reopen, she will be back in business with one less child than she had before the pandemic.
Even though she’ll be open, it doesn’t mean things will be back to normal. She won’t be allowing parents into her home, and has adopted strict guidelines for regular cleaning and sanitization. What were already long days, will be much longer.
She has also agreed to forgo taking on any new children until the risk of COVID-19 has diminished. For a small business owner operating in a volatile industry, the fact that business growth has to be put on hold is a scary thought.
“I am always considering growth. In this business, one child can be a difference maker, but with all of the extra work that will be required to keep the children and families safe, and the uncertainty of introducing new families, we’ll have to put that [growth] on hold,” commented Cain.
Amplifying Existing Flaws
Operating an in-home child care program is no easy task. Even in the absence of COVID-19, margins are tight, profits are hard to come by, and the hours are long. At the center of the issue is a funding model with a critical flaw — most parents can’t afford to pay for the true cost of the care their children need.
For example, look at reduction of in-home providers who accept child care subsidy. Nationwide, the number has shrunk from roughly 400,000 providers to 155,000 in less than a decade. For a large segment of the population, even with cost-sharing, they are still not able to cover the cost of care.
The child care system relies heavily on caregivers like Cain, who are willing to work within a broken system, because they love caring for children. For Cain, the added time she is able to spend with her family makes it all worthwhile.
The reality is, child care is an essential part of our economy, but unfortunately, the funding model has serious flaws that create instability and inequity.
If we as a community, don’t figure out a way to compensate providers with more than the ability to spend more time with their children, we could face serious consequences, especially as COVID-19 continues to amplify serious challenges for providers.
Learn how you can advocate for a child care system that works for all families.