The Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance has been a champion of early learning in Spokane since 2006. As supporters of early childhood education, we are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on child care.
Child care businesses are closing at an alarming rate under the strain of COVID-19. As of April 22 in the City of Spokane, 31 child care centers have closed, along with 21 family home programs and 27 school-age only programs, according to data compiled by Child Care Aware of Washington. Across the county, 98 programs are closed, and those numbers will grow as this pandemic continues. Many child care sites may not reopen when people go back to work. There will be a shortage of quality child care.
This hurts families. Child care has always been a place where children feel safe, grow socially and emotionally, and learn and develop. Child care providers, like first responders – those who work in the medical field or at grocery stores – are vital right now. During these unprecedented times, child care providers are making personal and financial sacrifices. Yet we believe they are being left out of the conversation. As our community celebrates, and rightfully so, those on the front lines in combating the coronavirus, we ask you to consider the people who care for our kids.
Child care businesses operate on narrow profit margins. They run month to month, paycheck to paycheck. Sure, there is help available, but as far as disaster loans and payroll relief go, no local centers have received any of these funds, even those that applied in mid-March. Centers are reporting they don’t have the funds to make their next payroll for hours employees have already worked. Child care providers need help NOW or they won’t be around tomorrow.
Centers are rapidly losing enrollment and are barred from filling those slots with new children while being expected to maintain low group sizes. Unlike other businesses that are open, implementing social distancing is nearly impossible with young children. We know children can transmit COVID-19 and may be asymptomatic, leading to an increased fear that our child care teachers will contract the virus. These workers are already earning low wages and have little to no hope for additional financial support like hazard pay.
So what can be done? How do we ensure child care will be there when we need it? Make no mistake, if licensed child care goes away, we will have families forced to leave their children alone, parked in front of a TV at a neighbor’s or left with an adult with little or no experience taking care of kids. Parents will also opt not to go back to work, making it tough for local businesses to hire the staff they will need when the economy picks up.
We offer two solutions to save child care.
First, if are you a parent with a little one in child care, even if you are not using it right now, pay your tuition. This will allow your child care provider to pay rent, pay their staff, simply hang on. It will guarantee you a slot, when things get better, and likely your child will return to spending their days with their favorite teacher, the one they love and the one you trust. This simple investment will mean you will have quality child care when you need it and not be scrambling or worse, unable to find child care when the shortage hits.
Second, we call on businesses and the community to fund child care now. Help them get through this crisis so they can be there to support us all. The community response to COVID-19 has been tremendous. There are several funds in Spokane to help businesses, but nothing specific to child care is available. We’d like to change that. We invite you to give, via the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance’s fiscal lead, Community-Minded Enterprises by texting SUPPORTCHILDCARE to 44-321. Money will go to child care providers in our area. Or support Child Care Aware of Washington’s effort to raise money for essential supplies for providers who are running out at childcareawarewa.org/donate/.
Finally, to everyone working in child care during these difficult times, thank you. You are our heroes.
Colleen Condon is owner/director of the Lilac City Early Learning Center. Lee Williams is executive director of Community-Minded Enterprises. Submitted on behalf of the Inland Northwest Early Learning Alliance.
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