CLEVELAND — Even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to plague the nation, many workplaces are shifting away from home settings and going back into the office. That means more parents are in need of child care once again.
But a recent survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC, revealed 77% of child care centers across Ohio are dealing with a staffing shortage. Of that population, 44% of programs are serving fewer children; 40% have a longer waitlist; 36% are unable to open classrooms; and 19% have reduced their operating hours.
Local child care center advocates and owners said these are tough times.
“People need child care to work. we need workers to provide child care. so there’s a big hiccup in the system that has to be worked through," said David Smith, the executive director of Horizon Education Centers. "We’ve never experienced anything like this. I’ve been doing this for 25 years.”
Horizon Education Centers is a non-profit early childhood education center with locations throughout Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. Smith said fully staffed they employ about 400 people. But currently they’re short staffed by 60.
“We lost all of our staff members over 60 and anyone that had any kind of medical condition and that was a lot of experience that we lost," he said.
Of the 46 states which responded to the survey from NAEYC, all were experiencing shortages. Most states reported 70% of centers were dealing with the problem.
“The issue that have been there for a number of years really have come front and center," said Nancy Mendez, the president and CEO of starting point. "We've had issues with people not understanding the importance of quality early education. We've had issues with the the expense of running a child center."
Starting Point is an agency which provides training for child care center employees and connects parents with quality care. The referral agency works with more than 600 centers across Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties.
Mendez said above all else - low wages are in the main issue to staff shortages.
“Average hourly wage is less than $12 an hour and right now there’s fast food restaurants that are paying more an hour and they don’t a license, they don’t need a special certificates, they don’t need special training," Mendez said.
“We’ve thrown everything at it but the kitchen sink as far as recruiting staff and retaining staff," Smith said. "We have to come up with some creative solutions."
To help, Smith said Horizon is offering a $500 sign on bonus and they've increased pay in other positions to be competitive.
“We’ve done some great work in building up this child care system in the last 20 years," said Mendez. "But we have a ways to go to continue to strengthen it."
Mendez and Smith both said in order to get back on track, state government needs to step in and do more.
“It’s not a system that can support itself," Smith said.
"I think that this is where we really need government and private sector to sit at the table and come up with solutions," Mendez said. “I think it’s just a matter of political will that we all sit at the table and discuss this very important issue seriously.”