On August 31st, Governor Beshear announced a number of measures intended to provide some relief to Kentucky’s child care providers and the kids and families who rely on them. Let’s be clear – there are no magic wands when it comes to the challenges presented by COVID-19 for the child care sector. The announcement represents a commendable and unenviable job of listening to providers, listening to families, and taking steps to prop up the fundamental, fragile ecosystem of child care.
But make no mistake. Without help from Congress, more providers will permanently close their doors and tens of thousands of families will be out of safe, quality child care options.
From Kentucky Youth Advocates’ perspective, our standard question when weighing policy options is “Is it good for kids and families?” Here’s our take on some of the changes that the state enacted for child care:
- Increased the number of children who can be grouped together from 10 to 15 – this was a tough decision with no right answer. Increased group size means increased exposure for children and for teachers who care for them. Yet, smaller group sizes mean fewer kids and that means less revenue for child care centers who operate on a razor thin margin, which means that doors will close and families will lose access to care. The jury is out on what impact this change will have, but there is no doubt that the state listened to providers and tried to work with them because ultimately, preserving the wonderful, high quality licensed centers we have is in everyone’s best interest.
- Offered a $2,500 in start-up costs for regulated family child care – this is a forward-thinking move and one that we celebrate. Family child care – a small business in which someone cares for up to 6 unrelated children in their home, while adhering to state health and safety guidelines – is a lifeline for many families, especially in rural areas that have few to no licensed child care centers. Family child care homes often fill the gap in child care options for parents who work nights or weekends and need child care with flexible hours. It also offers that home-setting that many parents want for their infants. Their naturally small group sizes make regulated family child care a great option so parents can work and so centers can help reduce the viral spread. Half of Kentuckians lived in a child care desert pre-pandemic, and there is no doubt that we need to start investing in more options for kids and families right now.
- Suspended All-STARS quality rating visits – in order to limit visitors in and out of centers and prevent centers for being penalized due to COVID-related restrictions, All-STAR rated programs will stay at their current rating level for the next year and receive their financial stipend based on that rating level. This was a pragmatic decision to adapt expectations to the current reality and allow programs to continue to receive the additional funding that they so desperately need at this time.
Read the full list of changes on the Division of Child Care’s website here.
Were these changes needed? Absolutely. Will these changes save our fragile child care ecosystem? No. We are limited with what we can do without funding. There is no question that without further federal investment in child care in a subsequent coronavirus relief package, we will lose more of our licensed child care centers, parents will have fewer options for child care, and our kids will miss out.