As 2020 winds down, I’m worried about making payroll for the 17 employees at my two child care centers. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on North Carolina’s child care system are becoming clearer every day. The pandemic has created a disaster for child care and the families who depend on it—and I’m afraid of what is still to come. We all need to pull together to help families with young children through these dangerous times.
I am grateful and proud that my centers were able to stay open during the state’s stay-at-home mandate, caring for the children of first responders and essential workers. Before the pandemic, Little Believers was at 95% capacity, serving 120 children between both locations. Like much of the child care sector, we are below half our capacity now. We are struggling with low enrollment, expensive COVID-related sanitization and PPE costs, an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure, and the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic—all while trying to serve families and children who are the furthest from opportunity.
Families need better support systems
Child care plays a vital role in families’ ability to thrive. We are often the core component of a support system for families with young children. Many of the low-income children and families we serve are facing additional hardships due to pandemic, including job losses, hours cut, illness, hunger, and even homelessness. Naturally, many are struggling to afford their child care fees. I’m worried sick about trying to serve the needs of these over-burdened families, all while keeping my business afloat.
I also know that I am far from alone. Two of my close friends have had to close their centers. Recently I surveyed child care providers across North Carolina and found that other providers are facing the same urgent challenges. Directors are struggling to find qualified staff while still operating centers at reduced hours. Staff are worried about getting sick when they often don’t have health insurance. Parents who receive subsidized care have lost jobs, and are not able to pay their monthly co-pays.
We are grateful for the many ways that NC DHHS has proactively worked to support centers and help keep our doors open. But now the federal dollars have run out—and there is not relief in sight. Our centers, staff, and families need more than the short-term supports we had access to over the summer and fall. Without additional federal funding support, many of us don’t know if our centers will survive through the end of 2020.
Child care is essential
There is no question about it—child care is essential. Before COVID, the child care system was barely making it. Now more than ever, we need to properly invest in child care and prevent the entire collapse of the early childhood education sector. Without sufficient funding to stabilize and support the child care system, our economy will be hit hard, with parents unable to return to work. Just as importantly, we risk the long-term impacts on children who are missing out on critical building blocks for early learning.
As North Carolina continues to manage and hopefully recover soon from the pandemic, it is our responsibility to ensure access to safe, affordable, and high-quality child care. Early education and child care providers are essential to the success and livelihood of North Carolina’s families.
Speak up to #SaveChildCare
You can take action on this important issue today. Please join me in calling on our US Senators to #SaveChildCare and provide additional emergency funding to our early childhood providers. Our teachers, staff, families, and North Carolina’s economy depend on it.
Cassandra Brooks is an early childhood education advocate and the owner of Little Believer’s Academy. She operates two five-star childcare centers located in Wake and Johnston Counties. She also serves on the boards for the Partnership for Children of Johnston County and the North Carolina Partnership for Children.