“Do you know any early childhood educators seeking employment?”
This was not a response I was expecting this summer as I called various child care centers seeking the right fit for my one-year-old. This response, coupled with being placed on at least three waiting lists, helped put into focus the child care crisis as it hit dangerously close to home.
Not yet one month into our first child care experience with our first child, my husband and I were left scrambling to find care when our center alerted us they were shutting down for a week due to an unexpected staff emergency.
To be clear, emergencies happen. I get it. But this one left 12 children and their families needing to randomly take a full week off work. Finding child care is not a decision my family took lightly. Delaware’s underinvestment in child care, met with the devastating effects of the pandemic, is forcing our centers to make tough decisions every day. Centers across Delaware and the nation are grappling with staffing shortages, causing waitlists and panic among parents.
At the height of the pandemic, we coped with a variety of universal fears. How do I stay healthy? How do I keep my family safe? What do I do if I lose my job? How will students learn with schools closing? Now, over 18 months later, we have mostly figured out how to function in our new normal. The new normal included many people getting sick, many dying. It also included many people losing their jobs, changing jobs, and a lot of students missing out on learning. Through all of this worry, instability, and change, working parents tried to find ways to keep our jobs and provide for our families.
Working families have often struggled to find quality care for their small children even before the pandemic—sometimes having to choose centers very far away from their homes or workplaces. Despite the ever-present challenges for early childhood centers, they were among the first businesses to reopen when the pandemic lock-down started. Simply put, parents had to work, and these centers did everything they could to provide the needed services while keeping our precious little ones safe.
But the educator staffing shortages have not improved. If anything, they have gotten worse, and the situation that my family found ourselves in this September is more common than you might think.
Child care affects so many aspects of life beyond just the families that utilize care. When I don’t have child care, I risk my employment, which then impacts the larger economy. If my family shifts from a two-income household to one income, it would dramatically alter our economic situation. I’m privileged to work for an employer that is compassionate and understanding, and one that understands that the child care crisis as well as anyone, but not everyone has this luxury. And importantly, not everyone has family nearby who can care for their child(ren) in a pinch.
Early childhood educators are arguably doing some of the most important work in our communities. They are caring for and teaching our youngest community members. Their presence, patience, and care allow many of us the opportunity to work. And yet formal child care is often out of reach for most families due to cost and availability. Even when a family manages to make it work, we have to grapple with the fact that our caregivers are, in most cases, not paid at a wage commensurate with the big job they do for us. It is not lost on me that my center was put in this difficult situation partly because they are having trouble finding certified teachers who are willing to work at the current rates. Do we care about our youngest community members enough to fund child care adequately? The ripple effects of not funding child care are enormous, not just occasionally frustrating.
- Before COVID, half of Delaware parents were unable to work, go to school or buy a house due to the cost of child care
- More than seventy percent of child care providers in Delaware have staffing shortages NAEYC SURVEY actually says that figure may be more than 96 percent, while DIEEC COVID Survey says more than 70 percent
- 50 percent of providers have turned away families this year, according to the DIEEC COVID Survey
- Less than 30 percent of families utilizing state subsidy, as reported by DHSS
- Women’s workforce participation is lowest in three decades