Child care centers are struggling to keep their doors open during the pandemic. Many say they’re facing the double challenges of losing customers and new safety regulations.
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One of the biggest challenges facing parents in the COVID crisis is child care. Recent research found about half of the 4.5 million child care spots in the country could be permanently lost because of the pandemic. And without child care, it will be hard for many parents to get back to work. Kavitha Cardoza from member station WAMU in Washington, D.C., reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
ANGELIQUE SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: And this is how we communicate with each other.
KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: Angelique Speight-Marshall has come up with an ingenious idea to keep the seven little kids she looks after at her home-based day care apart. She’s given them little walkie-talkies.
SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: They request a toy, the bathroom, a snack (laughter).
CARDOZA: These toddlers run as far apart from each other as possible to talk.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Hey, Auntie P (ph).
SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: Hello, Jules (ph).
CARDOZA: Speight-Marshall constantly reminds children no hugs or holding hands, no sharing toys or art supplies. Everything she’s taught for 23 years, this is the opposite.
SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: That has been definitely a strain, trying to teach the children not to share. They don’t understand it. I’m an educator, and I don’t understand it (laughter).
CARDOZA: Speight-Marshall’s laughter covers up serious concerns. She’s serving only half the number of kids she used to because of new health guidelines, so she’s making far less money. She’s had to lay off staff, and she spends many more hours doing paperwork, laundry, disinfecting toys. But she’s grateful her day care is still open. Here in Washington, almost two-thirds of child care facilities have closed.
SYLVIA CREWS: It’s been kind of rough.
CARDOZA: Sylvia Crews ran a home-based child care service in D.C. until mid-March. She says with the stringent pandemic restrictions, she just couldn’t make the numbers work.
CREWS: All the PPEs, the Clorox, the disinfectants.
CARDOZA: Crews says even if she manages to reopen, she’s not sure how she’ll afford the new extra expenses.
CREWS: It’s thermometers, the face masks, the shields.
RHIAN ALLVIN: They’re hanging on by their fingernails.
CARDOZA: That’s Rhian Allvin, the CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She says providers have reached breaking point.
ALLVIN: And without a sustained public investment, the sector will collapse.
CARDOZA: Allvin says more than 80% of providers have reopened but at substantially reduced capacity. Many aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to survive long term.
ALLVIN: As we look to the financing of the system, parents can’t pay any more, and early childhood educators can’t earn any less.
CARDOZA: In recent months, the CARES Act — federal emergency assistance — provided $3 1/2 billion for early childhood education. Advocates say $50 billion is needed.
CARDOZA: Diamond Holland tries to keep her worries from her 2-year-old daughter. She’s a single mom who was laid off from her job as a home health aide.
DIAMOND HOLLAND: I worry about my unemployment. I worry about my rent. I’m worried about all of those things. How am I going to be able to survive?
CARDOZA: Holland is desperately looking for another job while also worrying about her other child, a 4-year-old. His preschool is closed, and she’s not sure how long family members can help out.
(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING)
SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: The batteries went dead.
CARDOZA: Angelique Speight-Marshall watches the toddlers play. The majority of children she cares for have parents who are essential workers — nurses, grocery store workers and truck drivers. She says any additional funding would help.
SPEIGHT-MARSHALL: Child care powers the economy because while we’re caring for the children and the parents are happy, the parents are able to go to work.
Everybody ready? Go.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Go.
CARDOZA: For NPR News, I’m Kavitha Cardoza in Washington, D.C.
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