The coronavirus greatly affected the economy, but the crisis in the child care industry has been a growing concern long before bathroom tissue flew off the shelves.
“The child care industry is in crisis and it has been,” said Under the Magic Pine Tree owner and Director Christine McNally. “The pandemic has just brought it to the forefront for everyone to take notice.”
Under the Magic Pine Tree is one of at least eight daycares and preschools in Douglas County, between the Gardnerville Ranchos and Johnson Lane that accepts infants to school age children.
The lack of teacher to child ratio in each classroom, limited resources and funding, and the impact of the coronavirus, has made it difficult for child care facilities most recently, causing closures and long waitlists, but it has been a struggling industry for many years.
“And now with the cost of those things increasing, it has created even more strain,” said McNally. “Many centers throughout the country have closed and many in-home providers have closed because of it. The need for qualified staff and increased wages in addition to these other cost increases is pushing the industry to its breaking point.”
According to The Children’s Cabinet, Nevada’s childcare and recourse center, even pre-COVID child care capacity could only meet 35 percent of the demand for care, and staff has been difficult to recruit and maintain.
“Many teachers are experiencing high stress burnout and due to shortage of staff, facilities do not have enough staff to fill to capacity. Some are merging to closing classrooms,” said The Children’s Cabinet Early Education and Development Department Director Marty Elquist.
A Carson City childcare facility owner and director, who asked not to be named, said the above has been her biggest concern.
“I own two child cares in Carson and direct one,” she said. “The problem we are having is getting and retaining staff. I have spots available at both centers, but cannot take any more children as I would need take on more staff. We have increased what we would normally hire someone for and with no experience as well. We have raised rates since Jan. 1, 2021 and are definitely still in the normal range.”
The Children’s Cabinet’s 2019 ‘FY19 Membership and Training Approval System Report,’ states that as of 2019, Nevada’ minimum wage for employees with employer-paid benefits remained at $7.25 per hour and all other employees received no less than $8.25 per hour.
“Many teachers receive low wages on average of $12 or less per hour, no benefits or retirement,” said Elquist. “As children under the age of five spend an average of 36 hours per week in a child care setting, these early childhood professionals provide an invaluable service for families and yet wages for child care workers are among the lowest in the U.S workforce.”
The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment released a biennial Early Childhood Workforce index which examines how much each state has progressed on compensation, qualifications and work environments. The report states that between 2016 and 2018 there were no significant changes in early childhood education in at least 44 states and wages for child care professionals has remained stagnant even though more and more child care workers have bachelor degrees.
While the work may be rewarding, many teachers find themselves forced out of the industry because they simply cannot make a living. In a Facebook discussion, conducted in Dec. 2021, one mother and child care provider said she left the industry for this very reason.
“I love working with kids and would still be doing it if I could actually make a living,” she said.
The median wage of a licensed early childhood education teacher in Nevada is $11.50 per hour or $23,920 per year, according to The Children’s Cabinet’s 2018 Early Education and Care Fact Sheet.
“The biggest issue has been money and hiring staff,” said Wendy Liebler director of One World Children’s Academy in Reno, Nevada. “Preschool is not a money-making business. The fact that as a small business and preschool we have made it this far is an amazing feat.”
It is clear there are many contributing indicators of the child care crisis straining families, providers and society across the country, but the coronavirus added to the blow.
The Center for American Progress said the Coronavirus has left a huge impact on childcare decreasing furthermore the availability to families. Due to closures of entire programs and classrooms, smaller group sizes to minimize the spread of the virus, and decreased enrollment as families chose to keep children home had a dramatic effect. In terms of supply and demand, this decreased revenue and increased costs of operation at childcare facilities, resulting in many providers unable to pay staff and forcing furloughs, layoffs and closures and leaving many families with no child care.
As vaccination rates increase and more businesses reopen, more families will return to work,
And childcare facilities will have to accommodate the increase in students. Many are still adhering to the smaller group sizes per classroom resulting in lengthy waitlists.
“The waitlist is about 6 months to a year-long, so basically as soon as you find out you’re pregnant you better call to get on that list,” said a parent in the December Facebook discussion. “It’s very difficult for first time mothers like myself that had no idea about everything that evolves daycare.”
Child care directors at the Carson City and Reno facilities and Under the Magic Pine Tree said they receive an average of 5-12 calls a day, mostly from parents in need of infant or toddler care.
“The number of schools that have closed is staggering,” said Liebler. “I’m saddened parents don’t have more choices in where to send their children.”
Gardnerville resident Chelsea Wilson-Doyle is a 28-year-old mother of five who has tried nearly every option she and her husband could to take care of their children and still make an income.
“Finding child care within our growing community has become harder and harder,” said Wilson-Doyle. “Especially when you factor in large families like mine. My husband and I tried working opposite shifts, looked into child care costs, Boys and Girls Club, private sitters, all of it. None of it made sense! It’s a reality right now, that many families have to struggle from time to time because they are a ‘one income’ household. But it makes more sense. We would be in serious debt if I tried to find full time work and afford child care for five children.”
According to The Children’s Cabinet’s 2018 Early Education and Care Fact Sheet, average cost for one child in child care in Nevada is between $8,189 to $11,150 per year depending on whether care is a licensed family care provider or a licensed childcare center, infant/toddler and/or a pre-Kindergarten school. Nevada ranks as the least affordable in the nation for the cost of infant care in licensed family child care and the eighth least affordable in licensed centers.
“Currently in Nevada, families earning more than 140 percent of poverty would not qualify for child care subsidy,” read the report.
This crisis parents face is not only challenging and frustrating, but it’s frightening that the care many rely on to improve households is in such despair.
“The value in the education and care Early Childhood Education (ECE) provides goes far beyond the early years in life,” said Liebler. “The teachers at our schools are giving of themselves and are always striving to teach and care in any way the children need. My hope is that the field of ECE has major changes for the better of the whole state.”
It’s no doubt the pandemic impacted many families, businesses and the economy, but some of the biggest issues, like the child care industry, have been affecting these things considerably for years.
“These issues need to be addressed and quickly,” said McNally. “A collapse of the early child care industry would affect all industries and the economy.”
For parental resources regarding childcare visit The Children’s Cabinet www.childrenscabinet.org
For family resources & parenting in Douglas County visit www.family-support.org or call 782-8692.
For Child Care Provider resources and career enrichment email Christine McNally NevadaChildCareAssociation@gmail.com or connect on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Nevada-Child-Care-Association-109996658151669