Left Scrambling: A Parent’s View of Delaware’s Child Care Crisis

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.

Quick Child Care Facts
  1. Before COVID, half of Delaware parents were unable to work, go to school or buy a house due to the cost of child care
  2. 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
  3. 50 percent of providers have turned away families this year, according to the DIEEC COVID Survey
  4. Less than 30 percent of families utilizing state subsidy, as reported by DHSS
  5. Women’s workforce participation is lowest in three decades

‘Collegiate’ Hubs for Teachers-in-Training Coming to Delaware Campuses

At a Glance...

-Diversity among teachers—along with an overall teacher shortage—remains a persistent challenge in Delaware and nationally.
-Programs like Collegiate foster a community for students in teacher prep programs, making them more likely to remain on-track to join the workforce.

Delaware continues to grapple with two historic challenges when it comes to its teacher workforce. First, there are simply not enough teachers to keep pace with projected student growth. And second, the teachers that are in the classrooms and educator prep programs do not look like the students they serve.

Teacher diversity, or the lack of it, is a huge issue, not only here in Delaware, but across the nation. In 2017-18, 79 percent of the nation’s teachers were white compared to 46 percent white students. The situation in Delaware mirrors the national statistics: 83 percent of our teachers are white compared to 43 percent of students.

There are incredible benefits to having a more diverse teacher workforce. We know that black male students achieve higher-than-normal academic outcomes when taught by a black teacher. A more representative workforce can even help improve dropout rates and college-going aspirations.

There are many initiatives in the works to improve teacher recruitment and retention, all of which are working to alleviate a state- and nationwide teacher shortage and foster a more diverse workforce.

One is happening on college campuses, where Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, University of Delaware, Wilmington University, and Educators Rising, have partnered with Rodel to create space on campus that will cultivate, prepare, and pull together important resources for students who are interested in becoming teachers.

This type of space is critical in ensuring that students remain in the teacher pipeline. Providing young students with a community to lean on helps them feel more prepared when they enter the classroom. Moreover, Red Clay and Colonial school districts, where a majority of students enrolled in the Teacher Academy career pathway program are students of color, are intentionally working toward establishing formal networks to ensure these students are supported. We can start to solve the teacher shortage and diversity issues by engaging these scholars early and often.

Read: How do you combat a teacher shortage? One Delaware district may have an answer.

These formal networks, known as Collegiate “chapters,” are springing up on many college campuses. They serve as hubs for advising and supporting our budding teachers’ needs at all stages of their careers. The opportunities provided through Collegiate—from scholarships to conferences to professional development—will allow Delaware students to grow in ways that will encourage them to stay on the path to becoming an educator, and once in the classroom, stay for the long-haul.

Collegiate is just like any other college club you may see at the annual activities fair—it will have a leadership board, events, and trainings several times a semester. Collegiate offers students a chance to connect with other likeminded students on their campus, across our state, and across the nation. The net result is a community comprised of individuals who can relate to and support one another while also taking advantage of resources from Educators Rising—a national nonprofit that’s cultivating a new generation of highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path from high school through college and into their teaching careers. Students in the program attend national conferences, sharpen their educator skills, gain leadership experience, and apply for scholarships.

Collegiate represents part of a growing effort to re-brand teaching as an outlet toward social justice, especially as schools struggle to hire and retain candidates of color.

These chapters should be up and running in the fall of 2021; so if you know an aspiring teacher at one of Delaware’s four educator prep programs, please encourage them to stay tuned to Collegiate for updates.

Meet Kim Lopez

Hello! My name is Kim Lopez and I am a program manager at Rodel. I am excited to join the team and use my experiences to impact education in meaningful ways. As the first in my family to go to college, I can’t say that I knew I would end up working in education, but I knew that I wanted to do work that allowed me to make our community better and stronger.  

I was born and raised in Delaware and I love being able to have an impact in a community that I deeply care about. From my personal experience, I know that a great education can really change the trajectory of one’s life. I loved school from almost the first day (my first day of kindergarten was actually very hard!) but found the process to get to college incredibly confusing. Through a series of fortunate events, I ended up studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University on a need-based financial aid award, which covered almost the entire cost. As a university student, I worked in the admissions office to help other students like myself fall in love with Cornell. After graduating from college, I became a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellow and worked with U.S. Senator Chris Coons on immigration and education issues.  

After my fellowship, I spent several years working at the University of Pennsylvania admissions office, where I learned that it takes a lot more than simply being interested in a college for students to gain admission. I loved working in admissions because I got to help students learn about college while also visiting students and schools all over the U.S., and even in places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Mexico.  

However, I became increasingly worried about students’ ability to access top quality education at an affordable cost. This interest led me to work with students from Delaware with TeenSHARP, where I worked with students and families from across the state to understand their educational options and help them create even more opportunities for themselves. Being strategic with opportunities in and out of school allowed my students to attend top colleges at a low cost, in Delaware and beyond.  

It shouldn’t take luck or calculated strategy for students to reach their fullest potential, which is why I am excited to work at Rodel—to ensure that students have access to the quality education, experiences, and resources, they need to be successful.  

I currently serve on the advisory board for People to People Delaware and the board of directors for First State Montessori Academy. When I am not in meetings or working, you can usually find me at my home in Middletown with my husband, son, dog, and cat, relaxing in the hammock, listening to Spanish rock/pop, or watching the newest “Selena” series on Netflix.