The child care industry has suffered huge financial obstacles during the past two years. The Center for Disease Control asked child care programs to increase their health and safety requirements in a way that required additional staff to serve the same amount of children. COVID-19 outbreaks caused programs to shutdown classrooms, or even the entire program, for weeks at a time causing significant losses in revenue.
Despite all these financial obstacles, they are still secondary to the huge staffing crisis that is affecting the entire child care industry.
Child care programs all over the nation are looking for new employees, but program administrators are not able to hire the number of staff members needed for full operation. Center directors are setting up interviews with potential teachers, but candidates are not showing up for their appointments. Centers are attempting to raise their rates in order to be competitive, but child care programs balance on a miniscule profit, so large salary increases are hard to provide. Instead, job applicants are going to other industries, like the hospitality industry or retail, where the salaries are now higher and the applicant does not have to invest so much time and emotion into a single position.
What does this mean for the field of child care?
- Child care programs are significantly understaffed. Staff members are working overtime to keep the programs open, and experienced staff members are approaching burnout.
- Administrative staff members are spending their time in the classrooms instead of doing essential tasks like supervising new staff members or processing the program’s payroll. These changes can lead to extra stress on the staff members that have remained at the program.
- Centers are not able to offer the community their full capacity. Instead, they are closing down several classrooms in order to meet required staff-to-child ratios in the rest of the program. By making these necessary adjustments, the statewide and nationwide capacity is significantly being reduced, causing additional families to go without child care.
- Select child care programs are reducing their hours of operation in an attempt to be utilize the staff members that are available. Unfortunately, this reduction of hours may not meet the needs of the families in the community.
- Some child care programs are having to close their doors completely since necessary staff is not available.
In order to avoid this huge reduction in capacity and loss of child care in the community, it is essential to identify why the staff crisis is so prominent. The child care industry was fragile long before the onset of the pandemic. What are the reasons that this industry is struggling?
- Although child care providers offer an essential service, by caring for and educating our youngest and most vulnerable children, they are paid an extremely low wage. It is very challenging to live on such a low salary, and many child care providers that work full-time can still qualify for subsidies like WIC, Medicaid, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
- There is still a huge difference in pay and respect between child care providers and public school teachers. Nationally, the median income for a child care provider is $25,000, while the median income for a kindergarten teacher is $58,000. This is extremely discouraging for child care providers that provide daily lesson plans, communicate daily with parents, and spend individual time with each child in the classroom. Their work is valuable.
- Child care programs are still predominantly funded by parents, with small supports from the state or federal government. This means that child care programs can not charge based on the cost of quality care, but instead based on what parents can afford. The industry basically subsidizes the cost of child care through staff salaries.
- Working all day long with a large group of young children can be physically and emotionally exhausting. These dedicated teachers need higher pay and more supports in order to continue doing a very challenging job.
We must realize that child care is the industry that supports ALL OTHER INDUSTRIES.
Without a fully operational child care infrastructure, the workforce will suffer. Parents need to acknowledge how important child care providers are to their family’s success. It is time for the state and federal government to realize that the child care system needs many of the same supports offered to K-12 education. Businesses need to realize that child care is not just a “problem” for employees to figure out. Without consistent childcare, the business community can not recruit the best and brightest employees.
Consistent child care begins by attracting staff to the field with competitive wages. Until that happens, our child care staffing crisis will continue and our communities will continue to struggle.