Childcare industry in a hurry from all sides, vendors say

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More than 750 Maryland child care providers have closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a meeting with a state legislative committee on Wednesday, providers and other stakeholders said the pandemic is just one of many forces choking Maryland’s child care industry.

Rachel Baye from WYPR joins Nathan Sterner in explaining.

Nathan: It’s not the only factor, but what effect has the pandemic had on child care providers?

Rachel: According to the Maryland State Child Care Association, 44% of providers are operating at less than half of their full capacity.

Holly Frazer, who has two centers in Washington County, said she had a few theories about declining enrollments during the pandemic.

“Number one, families are still afraid of COVID,” she said. “Let’s just say the obvious: a lot of parents, if they have the option of being at home or with their family, that’s what they’re going to choose.”

Child care providers also have to follow stricter quarantine rules than, for example, public schools. When a child tests positive, the provider should close the classroom and anyone who comes into contact with the child should be quarantined for two weeks.

“So what are the parents doing? Frazer said. ” They leave. They go to the neighbor down the street. The aunt is now watching, where they send their kids to public school programs, even if that’s not where they want them to be because they don’t have to quarantine themselves. “

Nathan: When parents take their children out of child care, they also take their school fees away, which I would imagine hurts the bottom line of providers.

Rachel: Law. These are already companies that operate on very low margins.

That’s another challenge: Like many businesses, child care providers struggle to find skilled workers.

Part of it is because of what they can afford to pay. According to Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association, the average Maryland daycare teacher earns just over $ 26,000, often without benefits. The average center manager earns $ 41,000.

“In Maryland, we have to have specific qualifications to work in a child care program,” Peusch said. “Finding people who meet these requirements has been even more difficult because they can work at Target, Starbucks or Kohl’s for a lot more money per hour than they can for us. “

Nathan: Tuition fees in day care centers are notoriously high. Where does this money go if not for wages?

Rachel: Child care is the most expensive for young children. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of infant care in Maryland is over $ 15,000 per year, which is more than the state college tuition.

One of the reasons is the strict child-teacher ratio. Growing to attract more students requires hiring more teachers.

Nathan: Looks like it’s a cycle.

Rachel: And here’s the next part of this cycle: Because child care is so expensive, low-wage workers rely on the Child Care Bursary Program. But vendors who spoke on Wednesday said Maryland’s program is a bureaucratic mess.

One of these providers is Tracey Clay, Principal of Celebree School in Germantown.

“One family in particular had to lose their job because they couldn’t get approval quickly enough to get child care to go to work,” recalls Clay.

She described a teacher at her center who received the scholarship to cover school fees for her two children. The teacher spent hours on the phone for several days – hours when she was supposed to look after the children at the center – trying to pay her scholarship.

Problems with the stock market are forcing many workers to take their children out of daycare and quit their jobs to care for them.

And experts say it is largely women who are forced into this situation. Between January 2020 and June 2021, the state Department of Labor reports that approximately 57,000 women left the Maryland workforce, although we cannot say for sure how many left due to labor issues. child care.

Nathan: And this, in turn, affects all companies trying to find workers.

Rachel: Exactly.

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