Quick-staffed Ohio little one care might forestall mother and father’ return to workplaces

Many Ohio daycare centers are under staff shortages, limiting the number of kids they can enroll for the summer as some parents begin the transition back to the office after working from home during the pandemic.

More than a third of the state’s centers are struggling to find enough skilled early childhood educators. According to a recent survey by Action for Children, a central childcare and referral agency in Ohio, there are currently estimated nearly 1,000 vacancies.

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“We are in a crisis,” said Gina Ginn, CEO of Columbus Early Learning Centers, which operate five centers in Linden and the Middle East. “We need new people to enter the field of early childhood.”

Founded in 1886, Columbus Early Learning has looked after children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but an additional 22 employees would need to be hired to be fully operational again, she said.

“We survived the last pandemic, but they forgot to leave us a playbook on how we can survive this,” said Ginn of the ongoing consequences of the pandemic, even after facilities were allowed to reopen under stricter guidelines like one a year ago Limit the number of children in each room.

Columbus Early Learning currently employs 54 people, 20 fewer than before the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. While only 162 children are currently enrolled – a little less than half of prepandemic – officials still have to put children on waiting lists at its centers because they are don’t have the staff to accommodate a larger enrollment.

And that could become a growing problem in an industry where space has always been tight, proponents say.

To make matters worse, many parents – who are willing to return to work when their unemployment benefits have been used up or who can finally return to the office after working remotely – are desperate for vacancies.

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“We have to hire these 22 people. We need to be able to offer the same extended hours that we used to use for families, “said Ginn.” We need to bring the class sizes back to before the pandemic (Levels) so we can support as many families as we used to support. “

The staff shortage means these 54 employees are each assuming more responsibility, she said.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Ginn. “Everyone on the team makes sacrifices to make sure we can provide the best and most caring environment for the children every day.”

The shortage of staff is not unique to Ohio. In the United States, 166,900 fewer people were working in childcare in December 2020 than in December 2019 when the industry was busy just over 1 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Biden government hopes to ease the burden on childcare centers by providing the states with $ 39 billion from the federal government to support childcare. The money, from the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package signed by President Joe Biden in March, will be distributed to help childcare workers pay rent, reinstall workers, and provide childcare for families making low-income more affordable. Added to this is $ 10 billion from childcare, which is included in the $ 900 billion aid package signed by former President Donald Trump in December 2020.

The pandemic is exacerbating the industry’s recruitment problems

While dealing with staff shortages isn’t new to childcare workers, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, according to many providers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average early childhood caregiver was making just $ 11.65 an hour. This comes from the biennial Early Childhood Workforce Index 2020 from the Center for the Study of Employment in Childcare at the University of California at Berkeley. And the situation has not improved for many childcare workers as many providers have to make cuts through layoffs, vacations and wage cuts.

“We have struggled with staff in some ways for years, but the pandemic has underscored the fact that we are currently very, very low on staff,” said Mary Ann Rody, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Care Providers. “We have an enormous number of centers that cannot staff even the children they have, and they are very incapable of recruiting.”

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Bottlenecks could make returning parents to offices more difficult after the pandemic

This could potentially create a bottleneck for parents trying to access childcare, said Eric Karolak, CEO of Action for Children’s.

“They have programs that are unable to change their enrollment because they don’t have the staff to take in new families and can barely keep the classrooms open,” he said.

The Connected Pathways Early Learning Center on the northeast side currently has 10 employees and has about 100 fewer children than it did before the pandemic started last spring, said owner Micah Haralson.

“It’s very painful,” said Haralson. “We recruit at all levels.”

When fewer employees are employed, the number of children that can be enrolled is limited.

“If you don’t have the support staff, the teachers and programs are emphasized. Sometimes you have to put staff unfamiliar with the kids in as other staff, which means the programming is compromised, ”said Haralson.

Daycare centers have a shortage of applicants – especially skilled applicants, said Becky Ciminillo, vice president of youth development at YMCA in central Ohio.

“It’s one of those things that I don’t think people get the job done and how effective it can be,” she said. “We have to win people over to the field.”

The crisis could worsen in the autumn

The hope is that daycare centers in central Ohio will be back to full capacity by September, Rody said.

“We have to put the staff in place by then, so hopefully we’ll have some remedial action by then,” she said.

And what happens when daycare centers don’t have enough staff to meet their needs?

“We’re going to have an even bigger crisis than today,” said Ginn. “There just won’t be enough care for families.”

Information from USA Today was used in this report.

Childcare shortages aren't unique to Ohio.  In the United States, 166,900 fewer people worked in childcare in December 2020 than in December 2019, according to federal labor statistics.  In this photo, main teacher Makayla Tatarko is tying a children's shoe at the YMCA Early Learning Center on the East Side.

Opening doesn’t mean OK

Action for Children in central Ohio surveyed 1,243 local childcare programs in March and found that many providers are faced with staff shortages and fears of closure. The results include:

  • Without immediate action, 30% of providers expect a deal within 3 months.
  • For more than half of the providers, the monthly income does not cover the expenses.
  • 46 percent of providers lose more than $ 5,000 a month.
  • Enrollment is slowly increasing, but is still depressed at 57% of the provider’s capacity.
  • More than a third of day care centers suffer from a lack of staff. An estimated 1,000 jobs are currently being opened.
  • More childcare programs – now 49% of those open – have or plan to increase tuition fees.

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