The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed so many aspects of our lives and, I believe, brought a lot of things into focus, a focus on what really matters. For many of us, that is the adaptability and resilience of our communities, our businesses, and our families.
We are currently testing the capacity of our healthcare and food delivery systems, our internet and technological resources, our assisted living and senior service providers, our mental health and other social services resources. We are learning lessons about what we previously thought were acceptable operating conditions and will have many opportunities to build capacity for future challenges that will certainly come our way.
An industry that was already pushed beyond its capacity is childcare.
In a 2019 study, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry reported Montana licensed providers could only fill the childcare needs of approximately 40% of families with children 5 and under. As a result of Covid-19, many childcare businesses have closed because families no longer needed or could not afford care and/or due to the threat of virus spread to children and staff. There is a risk that many of these businesses will not be able to reopen. In a recent survey of 6,000 childcare teachers and workers from across the country, only 11% were confident they would be able to re-open without assistance after a closure of an indefinite amount of time. 47% of those surveyed said they would not be able to survive even a two week closure. (NAEYC Childcare in Crisis March 17, 2020)
The question I ask is, ”What happens next?” At some point, we will start opening things back up. How will we include child care?
- What if some child care providers do not come back to work? How will we accommodate the families that need this service?
- Can we help providers phase back in? Providers will have to purchase supplies, access training and will need help with support while the number of kids they are watching gets back at least to their “break even” numbers.
- How can we help providers with the business planning that enables them to both open back up and plan to weather the next storm?
- How can we help providers build back up their reserves?
- How can we make sure that people who could not afford to have their child care slot held can find providers?
- Can we make access to providers equitable?
- How can we learn from this pandemic to modify the childcare system to be more resilient, adaptable and fundable?
- How can we recognize childcare providers as the essential service that they are?
If we don’t include a plan for childcare as we open Montana back up, we will have a very difficult time getting people back to work and children back into settings that are caring and safe.
What are some other concerns you may have? What are some of your ideas on how to answer these concerns?
We understand that everyone’s energy is focused on the impact and mitigation of the coronavirus and safely reopening businesses and services in Montana communities. We also know that it will be more important than ever to share ideas of how to preserve existing Early Childhood and Education resources and increase programs to meet the need beyond this event. As a first step, please provide any thoughts you might have on how CARES Act Relief fund money can help our childcare system (and other aspects of our safety net and economy) by commenting on the Montana Department of Commerce’s public comment form here as soon as possible.
Let’s make sure that we don’t forget our childcare providers as we rebuild our “new normal”. They are a vital and essential resource to our economy and our future.