Local parents highlight need for more childcare offerings
Early and school age care education programs contribute to children’s overall healthy growth and development, strengthen families, and support working families. Early care and school age systems were fragile prior to the onset of the pandemic as public funds and/or family fees have not met the cost of operations. These programs are at a critical juncture as demands on the field have altered considerably.
The COVID-19 pandemic created significant upheaval as public health officials and government leaders quickly maneuvered to ensure the health and safety of its residents while tending to individuals infected by the disease. From the beginning, child care was elevated as critical to serving health care professionals, first responders, and other essential workers, as well as the long-term recovery of local communities. While some programs temporarily closed their doors due to shelter in place orders, many remained open, most of which were family child care homes. As centers and family child care home providers continued to serve families or prepared to re-open to serve essential workers, the need for additional resources quickly became apparent.
“Early childcare professionals take care of our children in good times, and have really stepped up in this unprecedented time to make sure that all children are cared for. Some are even taking children for free, and this is pushing them to the limits of their resources, but they care about our children and families,” said Rossnina Dort, MA ECE, Director, Early Education Services, Local Planning Council. “Programs need financial and other supports to meet public health guidance such as that related to cleaning and disinfecting, limiting groups of children to maintain physical distancing, and spending more time outdoors. Schools remaining closed for distance learning have also magnified pressures on programs to support young children in new ways.”
The topic of child care and its important role in allowing parents to work, although not a novel issue, has come to the forefront of many national, state and local conversations, especially now with how the COVID-19 pandemic drastically and unexpectedly shifted everyone’s life. With many child care facilities forced to close or restrict their capacities, parents feeling afraid and uncomfortable sending their children to group settings, and closure of in-person public schools, many families are left reeling.
This pandemic has provided an opportunity to reevaluate and rebuild California’s child care system, and the only way that can be done with families as the focus is to hear what they need and want. This back-to-school season is anything but normal. With distance learning, split schedules, and child care center closures, parents are scrambling to find care so that they can work.
Listening to Families
In March 2020, Nevada County Office of Emergency Services launched a Child Care Task Force comprised of a dedicated group of service professionals representing: Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, Nevada County’s Local Child Care and Development Planning Council, First 5 Nevada County, Sierra Nevada Children’s Services, Tahoe Forest Hospital, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Tahoe/Truckee Unified School District, and other stakeholders to gather information about the scope of need for early care and education and child care services for children birth to 12, in the ever-changing landscape that we’re currently living and working within during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the Task Force, the Child Care Coordinating Council serving as the Local Planning Council (LPC) for Nevada County developed a Child Care Needs Survey Prior to and During the Pandemic to better understand parents’ need for child care to support the overall coordination of early and school age care and education services. The Survey quickly received over 253 responses from working parents with children under the age of 12.
This information will be used to advocate on behalf of families for additional funding to be allocated to child care services including, but not limited to: sponsoring child care spots with local service providers, incentivizing providers to stay open using enhanced health and safety protocols, and supporting additional training for providers to ensure that children are receiving the highest quality of care. And In understanding the demand, the LPC can also better support the supply side of the equation so that they are meeting the unique needs of parents during this time, planning for child care and development services based on the unmet needs of families in the local community, and advocating for policies and systems that truly support all families in Nevada County.
Who are the Child Care Survey Respondents?
- 253 parents/caregivers with children 0-12 yrs of age in Nevada County completed the survey
- 74% needed child care prior to COVID-19
- The majority (72%) are employed (salaried, hourly, self-employed), with a majority working in essential services
- 81% parents/caregiver do not receive/qualify for child care subsidies
- The majority (66%) have school-aged children attending schools that are using a hybrid in-person and online format who need afterschool child care in order to continue to work
Child Care Needs During COVID-19
- 77% found it difficult finding quality child care during COVID-19 compared to prior years
- 37% of respondents cannot work in-person or remotely without child care
- 72% of families find it difficult to find quality child care within their budget during COVID-19 due to cost, schedule, child care closures and quality of care concerns
- 43% of respondents need care for their children 4-5 full days per week
- Respondents said that the top three things that would help them continue their employment are: 1) assurance that the child care programs are maintaining high quality services and keeping up with health & safety practices, 2) access to quality child care that fits their schedule and location needs (particularly child care programs at their child’s elementary school), and 3) financial support to help pay for child care.
- The majority of respondents prefer public and private child care settings (centers/family child care, public child care, Head Start) and that juggling work and child care responsibilities during the pandemic has caused their productivity to suffer
- Over half (53%) of the respondents with school age children are unable and/or have difficulty paying for child care for thier school-age children. Respondents were split on if they would look for child care for their child if their child’s school reverted to an entirely online or hybrid schedule
- Decreased capacity and increased health risks and operating costs are damaging an already financially unstable child care industry.
- This survey revealed that the majority of parents/caregivers are very concerned that their child care will close, that they will not be able to afford care or find care for all their children and have higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.
- But what should be of even greater concern to employers is that if schools and child care do not fully open (and stay open), 40% of respondents who cannot work in person or remotely without childcare have to make major changes at work, such as adjusting their available work hours, looking for a different job, or leaving the workforce entirely.
The majority of Parents (94%) Support Greater Investments in Child Care to Continue Their Employment, including scholarships/tuition support for child care fees, access to quality child care that meets their working hours and location, and assurance that the child care is maintaining high quality services and keeping up with health and safety practices. Child Care is crucial for economic recovery, and it is critical that we invest in the development of early care and education facilities and strategies that support the retention and professional development of early and school age care educators.
We need to reevaluate and rebuild California and our county’s child care system to truly meet the needs of children and families and the early care and education programs that serve them.
We can do this by:
- Further developing high-quality learning environments and facilities that fully address the demand for early care and education services. We need initiatives that:
- Recommend inclusive environments for all children within a mixed delivery system (e.g. center-based, public/private, community-based, school districts, family child care homes, etc.);
- Ensure programs serving school age children receive the necessary supports to improve the quality of their services;
- Provide state and local resources to equitably improve and expand public and private capital resources and technical expertise to develop, finance, and maintain new and existing high-quality facilities;
- Award funding for construction or renovation of facilities in communities with unmet needs for early care and education service; and,
- Promote new policies and policy amendments that support the development of early care and education facilities, including the integration of early care and education in land use, housing, transportation, and economic, workforce and community development.
- Investments and strategies that increase the availability, accessibility and affordability of high- quality early care and education services for all children are crucial. To do this, we need to:
- Advocate for state and federal budget and policy determinations that result in protected, sustained, and increased funding sources for early care and education services;
- Build a streamlined single subsidy reimbursement system reflecting the actual current cost of providing high quality care inclusive of compensating the workforce comparable to education and experience;
- Restore funding for all early care and education programs as part of the educational continuum;
- Coordinate across state and county agencies to support an array of comprehensive services comprised of physical and mental health, prevention and early intervention, TK-12 and higher education, community and economic development, family support, food/nutrition, social services and recreation activities; and
- Ensure streamlined data collection systems that provide opportunities to understand the needs of children and their families and the impact of the services they access.
How we as a community and, in particular, employers pivot – how we adapt our culture, policies, and benefits to meet the new demands of this extraordinary time – will have a huge impact on employee engagement, retention, productivity, and overall well-being. To learn more, visit 4cnevco.org.
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From classroom sessions behind a computer screen to missed dances and games, the class of 2021 has endured much during the pandemic.