Several centers have closed in the past year, including the Cœur d’Alene branch of ABCD daycare, which had been open for decades and welcomed 100 children.
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – The following story was reported by KREM 2 News partner Coeur d’Alene / Post Falls Press.
The child care system has reached a breaking point.
The problem is not new, but the pandemic has exposed a struggling system, said Mark Tucker, executive director of United Way of North Idaho.
“It’s in such a chaotic state right now and so many parts have made it wobble,” Tucker said. “Once COVID hit everyone noticed it. “
Sam Wolkenhauer, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, sees child care as the “choke point” of northern Idaho’s economic recovery.
“My image of this is that early childhood care, in particular, is a bottleneck for many people re-entering the workforce,” Wolkenhauer said. “It doesn’t spread, it’s expensive and it’s hard to find workers. “
Factors affecting the child care dilemma range from a lack of providers and low staff salaries to expense burdens for working families. Several centers have closed in the past year, including the Cœur d’Alene branch of ABCD daycare, which had been open for decades and welcomed 100 children.
“It’s good that he’s getting all of this attention,” Tucker said. “But it’s something that should have been done years ago.”
Coeur d’Alene City Clerk Renata McLeod, who manages licenses for the city’s day care centers, attributes the labor shortage in part to the child care crisis, although it is not unique to the ‘industry.
“There are so many job opportunities out there, so the competition for the workforce is strong,” McLeod said. “We have to find those who have a passion for the industry.”
Childcare staff usually earn low wages, but must have specialized licensing and training. Discovery Christian Dayschool pays around $ 11 an hour, said manager Katrina Floyd, which is the average salary according to United Way statistics.
Low wages sometimes lead to high staff turnover, Tucker said, which doesn’t create a stable environment for children. Staff shortages often lead to stress and emotional exhaustion, he said.
Lovlee, 3, the daughter of parent Angela Covarrubias, attends the Hayden Center at ABCD Daycare. Previously on the waiting list for six months, Covarrubias said the care her daughter received was of the highest quality.
For Covarrubias, a rental property manager, reliable childcare is crucial.
“If we couldn’t find daycare, my husband and I couldn’t both work; it would be a one-income household and it would be extremely difficult for our family, ”she said. “In the world we live in as middle class citizens, it is imperative that both parents work. “
At Discovery Christian in Coeur d’Alene, the problem isn’t with retaining staff, but with hiring additional workers, Floyd said. The center wants to hire two more teachers but has had no candidates.
“That’s part of the salary. A lot of fast food outlets pay $ 15 an hour, so it’s tough,” Floyd said. “And to work in child care, they have to get a license, so they have to pay for first aid and CPR and all the training. “
Discovery cares for approximately 54 children with a capacity of 72. Discovery has nine full-time employees, some of whom have worked there for decades. Thirty-five children are on the waiting list, most of them infants. Many daycares do not accept children under 3 years old.
A family with an older brother in school put their baby on the waiting list even before he was born, Floyd said. After two years, Discovery finally had an opening for him.
The cost of child care is a dilemma for families and for providers, said Keri Cederquist, director of community impact for United Way of North Idaho.
“One of the key things I want to stress is that the cost dynamic is a tricky situation,” Cederquist said. “Suppliers are basically charging exactly what they can to stay afloat and that is already excluding middle class families from the market.”
On average, providers bill between $ 750 and $ 1,000 per child per month. At Discovery, most families have two children and pay about $ 1,200 a month for both, Floyd said. The work is labor intensive and deserves a higher wage, but child care providers cannot afford to pay higher wages because this cost is passed on to families.
“There are some things that make child care really hard to figure out,” Wolkenhauer said. “One is that they can’t expand their capacity very easily. “
Regulations dictate the ratio of children to staff and the area required to serve a limited number of children.
“When they lose a worker, it instantly reduces the number of children they can serve,” Wolkenhauer said. “It’s not like a restaurant where someone can work another shift or work harder.”
Many child care workers are turning to the childcare industry, Wolkenhauer said. The wages are the same or better and the work is easier for some.
While many people have left the workforce because of COVID, the workforce has recovered “more vigorously for men than for women,” Wolkenhauer said.
A lot of it comes down to child care.
“We lack more women than men in the workforce,” Wolkenhauer said. “The differences between single women without children in the labor market and single men without children are very small. “
With 44 currently licensed child care providers within the city limits of Coeur d’Alene, the number is not growing as quickly as the population is growing, said the city’s deputy clerk Kelley Setters.
City officials are aware of the situation and have worked for years to find solutions, McLeod said.
Since the start of the pandemic, changes in licensing regulations have been encouraging for child care providers. Home caregivers can now have only one employee, increasing the number of children they can care for. At the height of the pandemic, a change in regulations allowed caregivers to take children outside to play as a team if the play space available was smaller than before.
United Way is also working to support parents while partnering with businesses to solve the child care dilemma.
“It has to change and it is changing,” Cederquist said.
Centraide formed a preschool learning group to invest in daycare infrastructure. Visit uwnorthidaho.org to learn more about the Child Care Bursary Program and Child Care Provider Grants.
The Coeur d’Alene Press is an information partner of KREM 2. To find out more about our news partner, Click here.