Child care workers and families in Henderson County are witnessing an “apocalypse” the rest of the public cannot – a lack of child care options.
“We are witnessing an apocalypse that no one else knows is happening except the parents of small children,” said Ashley Lamb, Henderson County Smart Start Partnership for Children program coordinator.
Smart Start helps families access and pay for high quality care for their children.
The conundrum for some daycares is understaffing – in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest problem some face is high demand for child care, especially for infants, and insufficient supply. Families face long waiting lists and high costs for quality care.
“We are the workforce behind the workforce,” said Catherine Lieberman, principal of the Bell School for Under-Sixs. “Everyone says, ‘We have to get the economy moving. We have to get people back to work ”. Well, you can’t do that if they don’t have a place for their kids. “
Bell School has a waiting list for each classroom and can only care for 25 children at a time, up from 40 before the pandemic. In one day, the center grew from 40 children to two in March 2020 when families removed their children to avoid exposure to COVID.
Lieberman had no choice but to fire seven of his 10 teachers. She still has open positions largely due to a shortage of applicants and those applying not being qualified, Lieberman said. The salary is probably also a factor.
The 2019 North Carolina Early Years Workforce Study conducted by the Child Care Services Association found that the starting salary for senior daycare teachers was around $ 10.50 a year. hourly and $ 10 an hour for assistant teachers. According to the study, head teachers working in a 5-star center started at $ 13.46 per hour and assistant teachers in a 5-star center started at $ 11.51 per hour.
A joint blog post by Child Care Services Association President Marsha Basloe and North Carolina Partnership for Children President Amy Cubbage states that these salaries are “well below typical service industry jobs, such as than fast food or retail ”.
While the director of Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center, Terry Maybin, said she has been fortunate not to be understaffed, she still has a long waiting list, especially for infants.
“There is a high demand for child care because the child-teacher ratio is so low that many centers cannot afford to bring (care for) infants because it is so expensive,” Maybin said. . “I could fill my whole center with babies, there is such a demand. ”
Maybin and Smart Start Program Director Kelly Hart recommend that women register on multiple daycare waiting lists as soon as they find out they are pregnant, as waiting for a vacant spot can be difficult. ‘a year or more.
Hendersonville’s new mother, Carolina Beltran, was put on a waiting list in July ahead of her due date in October.
“The windows are filling up very quickly,” Beltran said. “They’re filling up, that means I couldn’t go to work.… She wasn’t due until October, but I just wanted to be ahead of the game because I know other people might sign up.”
Beltran was fortunate to find a place quickly thanks to colleagues who helped her in the process, in particular by requesting a good Smart Start to cover the costs of care. The grant program is income based.
Cost and quality of care
Although it is claimed that caring for infants and children up to age five costs more than a college education, Lieberman hopes parents and families can see it as a short-term investment in their children. She said she also wanted the community to realize that students are independent and don’t need care like children, so costs shouldn’t be compared.
“The pandemic has put the spotlight on what child care providers have been saying for the past 10 or 20 years,” Lieberman said. “Something has to give and so far I don’t know what the solution is. Providers have given as much as they can give. This is the care industry – we give every day, but we can’t more give. We will break. “
Lieberman pointed out that families probably don’t think about the costs that exist to run a daycare center in addition to food and supplies for the children, including employee compensation, cleaning supplies, insurance, building maintenance. , utility bills, safety inspections, state licensing requirements, equipment costs, etc.
“There is no profit. There is no gold in the layers,” Lieberman said. “Because preschool education is private, not part of public schools, and paid for with tax dollars, parents see this cost in a different way. When it personally hits their wallet, that’s when they do. pay attention. “
Child care costs an average of $ 10,000 per year per child, according to Hart.
“We usually have a waiting list for good looking people, but right now we have good looking people who aren’t even able to find niches,” she said. declared.
This forces many parents to stay home with their children or leave them in potentially dangerous situations so that they can work, Hart added.
COVID is part of what Hart called the “child care crisis,” but many local daycares had been struggling for years before the pandemic began.
“They do it because they love children and want to help the community and help families so they can work,” Hart said. “We like to call them the workforce behind the workforce and they don’t get the respect or the pay they need to stay in a very stressful but very important job.”
While the costs of looking after their 9-month-old and 3-year-old child proved to be expensive – more than the monthly cost of their mortgage – Samantha Jamison said she and her husband felt it was worth it for the quality of care, especially after a traumatic experience with their eldest child. When the Jamisons struggled to find better quality care for her, they went for what was available and their child was neglected, she said.
“I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had a lot of trouble finding a place for their child when they need it,” Jamison said. “… Even though everyone could afford anything, there aren’t as many places as we have children who need care and I know that keeps parents from working.”
Jamison also previously worked in child care for almost three years, so she sees both sides of the crisis.
“We couldn’t keep people,” she said. “We had floats that were filling up all the time. The problem with not having people who can stay is you get really bad, unqualified teachers who aren’t great and neglect the kids. You can’t do anything. do it because you can not replace them with quality people because there are no quality people applying for these jobs. “
Smart Start and daycares know that it is not easy to find solutions to wait lists, staff shortages and costs. While some progress has been made, they hope to find long-term answers.
Governor Roy Cooper announced in October that the state had received $ 805 million in child care stabilization grants from the US federal bailout act to help families access child care services. High quality and affordable child care and help centers to increase wages to facilitate recruitment and retention.
Maybin said his center received its first payment in November. The funding “will help tremendously,” she said.
Funding from Smart Start and the Division of Child Development and Early Childhood Education provides the Child Care WAGE $ program – an education-based salary supplement program for daycare teachers. Hart said the program shows teachers that they are worth more than they earn and is a way to encourage them to stay in the child care field.
“The bond that children have with their caregivers who they are often more than they are with their own families is crucial for their development,” Hart said.
Lieberman said she hopes employers realize that positive, high-quality early education is key to a strong workforce.
“Sweden faced this over 50 years ago,” said Lieberman. “Companies have realized that in order to have a safe and happy workforce, you need to make sure children are safe.
“High quality programs cost money and you can’t escape them. The solution I see would require a long-term comprehensive understanding of the domain and elevation of the domain. It will take both politicians and our business communities to come together and realize that this is how you support a healthy workforce. “
Lamb wants more employers to give parents some leeway to get to work on time, as daycares can’t always cope with early drop-outs due to understaffing.
“These parents are kind of stuck in the middle and they have no choice,” Lamb said. “Employers just don’t seem to recognize what position they’re putting their employees in when they do. It happens a lot.”
Lurah Lowery is the education and municipal government watchdog reporter for the Hendersonville Times-News, part of the USA Today Network. Twitter: @lurahlowery. Concerns or story ideas? Email Lurah at [email protected]