Child care providers play a critical role in supporting other essential industries, as was seen during the COVID-19 crisis. The child care system remains increasingly fragile due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Many programs are faced with closure and are unable to sustain operations with diminishing enrollment and staffing shortages. Yet, many child care providers have remained open to support the needs of working families in their community.
One factor that has had widespread impact on programs during the pandemic is increased operating costs. In fact, the Center for American Progress reports that providers faced, on average, a 47% increase in operating costs during the pandemic, with even higher increases for programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds. Increased operating costs incurred in response to the pandemic include expenses associated with changing staffing patterns to reduce exposure, management of new safety protocols (e.g., drop off and pick up, temperature checks), and increased cleaning and sanitation and supplies.
If you operate a child care program, it will be no surprise to hear that the largest expense for programs is staff salaries. And, staffing shortages are adding to the challenge of maintaining a workforce to keep programs open. There are examples from around the county; this is a far-reaching challenge felt by many child care programs. Couple this challenge with increased costs as a result of the pandemic and child care programs are stretched.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 166,900 fewer people worked in child care in December 2020 than in December 2019, when the industry employed about 1,040,400 people. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conducted surveys (2020-2021) aimed at understanding the challenges child care programs face amidst the pandemic. Survey results indicated that while high turnover and staffing shortages have historically been a consideration in early childhood education, for many child care providers, the pandemic has significantly increased these concerns. Nationally, eighty percent of survey respondents are experiencing a staffing shortage, and 15% reported a “major shortage”.
There are many reasons why early educators may have left employment during the pandemic, including health concerns, a need to care for their own children, and layoffs to name a few. Now, as a deadline for vaccination of Head Start employees quickly approaches, questions remain about if and how this may impact educators’ decision to remain in the workforce.
Child care programs across the county are also reporting decreased enrollment. Among the child care centers that remained open during the pandemic, 81% say they lost enrollment over the past year, according to a NAEYC survey of more than 6,000 providers.
The bottom line: your program is not alone if you, too, face increased costs, staffing shortages, or decreased enrollment.
Federal relief funding has, and will continue to, help stabilize the child care sector. However, much work remains to be done. The new year may bring new opportunities for child care providers to rebuild their workforce and services for children and families. As we highlighted in a recent blog post, substantial allocations of federal funding to the child care industry are anticipated.
Check back here for further updates on funding opportunities and resources for the child care community. You can also subscribe to our blogs to ensure the timeliest access to information. If your program needs assistance, please consider exploring our Consulting Services and contact us to learn more.
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