Opinion: Child Care Centers Face Many Challenges
NEW ORLEANS – From Paula Polito, the owner of Beary Cherry Tree and a member of the Workforce and Education Task Force of the Resilient Louisiana Commission:
As a child care provider for twenty years, I know how resilient the child care sector is. We have dealt with challenges like the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and more so that we can support our state’s youngest learners. I am grateful for our resilience because the obstacles and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic are far more reaching than anything we have faced in the past.
As centers, including my own, begin our phased-in approach to reopening, we must ensure our classrooms are as safe as possible knowing that we face many financial obstacles in doing so.
Per CDC guidelines, all centers are required to lower teacher-child ratios and classroom group sizes. As the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children recently found, all of these changes come with an increased cost of providing care. For quality providers, like my business, my costs could increase anywhere from 35 to 60 percent.
Centers also must take on additional costs to put health and safety protocols in place (e.g. temperature checks, thorough sanitization and PPE for staff) while doing our best to maintain affordable care for families. Realistically, the majority of centers will experience financial losses once they re-open.
Most concerning, we are worried about our teachers. Teachers may not return to work when unemployment has made it so attractive to stay at home. Some teachers are among those with elevated risk for serious complications, and we do not want to expose them to a potentially contagious environment.
Child care requires well-trained educators to care for children, and centers need to maintain specific teacher-child ratios in order to meet state licensing requirements. Most importantly, research says our children thrive on being together. The critical work that teachers provide is grounded in interactions. Educators greet children with a warm embrace when they arrive every day and comfort them with a hug when they are upset. So, without teachers, child care centers cannot function.
I am certain that the group of individuals that own and operate child care centers will continue to persevere because they are strong and resilient small business owners. Parents and communities are counting on us, so we will serve children and families to the best of our abilities. But even the most resilient need help sometimes and we will continue to ask our local, state and federal government to support our work during these uncertain times.