Will the Child Care Sector Survive COVID-19?
Losing money is never a good business practice. Many business owners might close their doors and cut their losses. Unfortunately, when you are an essential part of the economy and employees and children are depending on you, it’s not always that easy.
This is the dilemma child care providers across our community are facing. Staying open through this crisis may cause long-term financial damage to their business; but closing, even temporarily, may mean they shut their doors for good.
One such provider is Hillview Christian Children’s Center. With enrollment dipping from 42 children to seven as the COVID-19 crisis took hold, program director Lenora Matter has been doing her best to balance the needs of her staff and the children and families they serve – but she’s worried.
“I’m worried about my staff. I’m worried about the families we serve. I’m worried that if we close, we’ll never be able to open again,” commented Matters.
In an effort to avoid closing the doors, Matters has taken some drastic measures. She has removed herself from the payroll, and laid off two employees. Those difficult decisions have allowed her to continue to care for the children who need care, and to keep seven teachers on the payroll. It’s far from a solution, and without a quick fix for her financial problem it won’t be long before the doors are closed.
New Challenge, Old Issues
Operating a child care center is no easy task; even in the absence of COVID-19, centers run on extremely tight margins. 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.
While there are investments at the local, state and federal level, as a whole, the largest share of the early education sector is funded by parent tuition.
When the quality of care is dependent on a parent’s ability to pay, it not only causes great inequity and widens the opportunity gap, but it also fails to provide adequate revenue for child care programs. This means teachers are severely underpaid and children aren’t always receiving the quality care they need.
Matters believes that we are due for a reassessment of the value of the early education professionals. “People need to understand that we’re not just babysitters. This is a highly-trained workforce that provides vital and valuable service.”
Surviving the Crisis
The Family Conservancy has been conducting an ongoing survey of child care providers in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Currently, roughly 30 percent of the 1,444 metro area programs are closed.
With her program currently operating in the red, the hope for Matters and Hillview Christian Children’s Center is resting on the Paycheck Protection Program. While she was able to submit an application, the Small Business Administration announced on April 16, that they are no longer accepting new applications.
Without adequate support, our community will face a significant child care shortage when parents try to go back to work. Our child care providers are essential workers on the front-lines of this crisis, and they’ll continue to be essential when the crisis is over.
Learn how you can speak up for child care providers.