COVID-19 pandemic takes toll on child care industry
With employees going back to the office, parents are having problems finding care
KATY, Texas – With the rise of remote work, fewer people sent their kids to child care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with many companies calling employees back to the office, some parents are having problems.
Natalie Mazzola, a mother of three and eighth-grade teacher, said the pandemic caused major changes in her family’s child care routine.
"It was just a complete 180 from what we were used to," Mazzola said. "We had to be extremely flexible because everything was changing on a day-to-day basis. The guidelines were changing."
Those changing COVID-19 guidelines determined when child care centers remained open or were forced to close for periods of time during the pandemic.
Nicole Istre, the owner of Katy's Early Childhood Enrichment Center, said in her 30 years in the child care business she’s never seen a time that threatened her industry like the past two years. "When the pandemic first started and parents were staying home, we were down to about 20% of our capacity," Istre said.
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The center survived, but according to the American Sociological Association, 35% of child care centers across the U.S. had closed permanently by April 2021.
Children at Risk, a nonprofit studying child poverty and inequality, also has tracked so-called "child care deserts." Director of Early Childhood Kim Kofron said the closings have notably increased the distance between child care centers nationwide.
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"Child care deserts are typically a zip code where the demand for child care is three times greater than the supply of child care," Kofron said.
Istre warned that vast areas of little to no child care could create potentially dangerous situations for all parties involved, especially parents who will soon return to work in person.
"With parents not being able to find child care, they’re going to find alternative ways. Are the older siblings watching them? Maybe older siblings, maybe a neighbor? I mean, is that the safest thing?" Istre said.
Kofron said money from the government would help keep child care centers open, despite wavering attendance.
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"If they’ve had such a narrow margin of profitability over the years, their savings account was only so deep. So, these packages that are coming in Congress now, these proposals that are coming through congress, we’ve got to have that additional funding to really make that work," she said.
Kofron, Istre and Mazzola all agreed that President Biden and local officials’ push to get more employees into their offices instead of working remotely will help child care centers bounce back from the last two years.