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Finding daycare is still impossible for many parents


McKell James first applied for child custody in October 2019, five months before his eldest son was born. She got on half a dozen waiting lists, but it took her two years to get just one. And this place, although coveted, was only for two days of treatment per week. The Salt Lake City family took it on anyway, falling into a dizzying juggling act the other three days, with James, 35, and her husband, Corper James, 51, balancing their full-time jobs while overseeing their toddler.

In the spring of 2022, after enduring a series of 10-day quarantines, McKell James, director of human resources, and Corper, an employment lawyer, decided to remove their son from child care to try to keep the healthy family before birth. of their second child. Now both children are on months-long waiting lists at four daycares with no end in sight. When McKell James had to return to work at the end of the summer, she and her husband hired a nanny two days a week. At $25 an hour, the bill for a part-time helper almost equals the cost of their monthly mortgage. The other three days, she and her husband shared custody of their sons.

“At the end of the day, you’re like, ‘Did I really do something?’ “, said James. “I’ve done everything and nothing and I don’t feel like I’ve done anything right, because you’re so scattered.”

Although most offices and schools have reopened, the pandemic continues to affect child care centers and after-school programs. Parents face daunting waiting lists. Child care centres, which were already operating on thin margins, are closing classrooms and limiting enrollment due to a severe shortage of teachers and a lack of funding.

“We knew the pandemic was straining an already strained system, so this is just an ongoing struggle that has gotten worse,” said Nina Perez, National Campaign Director for Childhood. childhood of MomsRising, a non-profit advocacy group.

The shortage of places means that some parents are still excluded from their careers and lose income. Others have uprooted their lives and come closer to their families for more help. Even more are struggling to care for their children while working from home. Perez said the situation had become so precarious that parents told him they were taking out child care loans or considering unsafe arrangements, such as leaving young children alone for periods of time or with elderly members. and fragile family.

At the end of the summer Census Bureau survey of households, more than 365,000 adults said they had lost their jobs because they needed time off to care for children under 5 in the four weeks preceding the survey. More than 1.3 million responded that an adult in the household quit their job to look after the children. More than 1.6 million supervised one or more children while they worked.

According to a report from Brookings Institution. Yet childcare is still widely seen as a personal issue for families — and especially for women — rather than a social benefit that sustains younger generations who will eventually sustain many aspects of society.

Advocates and educators had hoped the federal government would provide permanent financial assistance through President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better plan, which would have provided money to stabilize the child care sector by increasing the salary of early childhood educators and helping to reduce costs for families. But child care funding was cut off from federal law in August. Many child care centers continue to struggle, often unable to pay staff a living wage or even find enough workers to fully open classrooms.

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“We can’t compete with McDonalds offering $15 to $17 an hour to start,” said Toni Dickerson, resource and referral administrator for Sussex Preschools, a network of five child care centers in Delaware. “Before covid, we were more concerned with having qualified staff. Now we are just trying to recruit staff.

At Beach Babies Child Care, which runs four centers across Delaware, with a fifth slated to open soon, owner Sean Toner estimates that up to 80 more children could be served by his centers if he had enough staff to fill. classrooms currently closed. because of the lack of teachers. Staffing “has always been an issue, but it has never been exacerbated to the point where it is now,” he said.

Meanwhile, the waiting list for a place in one of its centers has climbed to 1,500 children. “It was never like this,” he said. “There are not enough child care centers in this region to meet the needs.

In Wisconsin, Kari Zimbric, 41, had to quit her job as a nurse practitioner last year due to a lack of childcare. Zimbric registered her twins, now 21 months old, for childcare more than six months before they were born in 2021. They have yet to find a place. “No one had room for even one baby, let alone two,” Zimbric said. “Finding daycare for twins right now is pretty much an impossible task.”

With no residential care available, Zimbric and her husband, Luke Zimbric, an engineer, hired a nanny to provide part-time care while Zimbric also worked part-time. When the nanny resigned for another position, the family “freaked out and rushed,” she said. They hired a student who was home for the summer as temporary help. But soon, the stress of trying to find home help was too much. When the twins were 6 months old, Zimbric quit her job to stay at home. “It was really difficult,” she said. “I had a job that I loved”

For low-income parents, no daycare often means no pay

Parents say they want more funding for the child care sector to increase salaries and center capacity, the return of the monthly child tax credit which could help offset some of the costs, better family leave policies – especially after the birth of a child – and government subsidies to help pay for care. Permanent change largely depends on Congress, although President Biden has says he would like to make the tax credit permanent.

In the absence of federal action, some states are stepping up their efforts. In Virginia, a new formula went into effect this month that reimburse service providers for the full cost of caring for children who receive state subsidies, rather than paying them a market rate which may be far below the actual cost. In California, new legislation will make easier for low-income families enroll in a state-funded kindergarten and a subsidized daycare centre. And in New Mexico, voters this year will consider a ballot initiative which will fund permanently early childhood in the stateproviding over $1 billion to the system over the next eight years.

That doesn’t negate the need for federal investment, however, said Elliot Haspel, senior fellow at Capita, a child and family-focused think tank. “As school funding has shown us, you quickly get huge inequities if you rely solely on states. This will ultimately require a federal solution.

Employers could also offer work-from-home arrangements and flexible hours, as well as more paid time off, said Maura Mills, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama College of Business who studies work-life balance. personal. Many companies have failed to provide flexibility for working parents, even as school systems adopt virtual days and childcare programs still require quarantines. “They took away a lot of work-from-home options,” Mills said. “It’s just an impossible affair for the parents.”

In Texas, child care providers are reverting to a broken system

In Salt Lake City, James wakes up around 7:30 a.m. and nurses his baby while answering emails, often with one hand. She takes calls and finishes the job between bickering with her toddler and taking care of her baby. She often catches up with her work in the evening when her children are asleep.

She fears that if her job requires her to be in person more than one day per week that she currently manages, she will be forced to find another position. Whatever job she accepts, her salary must cover childcare. The family is ultimately looking at a total cost of $2,400 a month just for part-time center care for the two boys – if the children ever come off the waiting list. Ultimately, she said, state and federal governments must step up.

“We all need to do more to focus on family,” she said. “If the government really cares about families and cares about future generations, put your money where your mouth is.”

This story about find a daycare was produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Register for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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